Pap Smear


What is it?

A pap test or pap smear is a diagnostic procedure performed on women in order to test for cervical cancer or precancerous conditions. The test is performed during routine pelvic exams where the vagina is widened using a speculum. A spatula and brush are used to swab the cervix in order to take a sample of cervical cells. The cells are tested in a lab in order to check for cancerous or precancerous cells, and the results come back in approximately a week.

How to Prepare

If a patient is having a pap smear, no additional preparation is necessary. Right before the pelvic exam, the patient will be asked to use the restroom and urinate if necessary. There are measures that the patient can take in order to make the pap smear results more accurate including avoidance of vaginal creams, sex, and douching for two days prior to the procedure. If the patient is menstruating, it is advised that she reschedules the pap smear for a later date when bleeding ceases.

What happens during the procedure?

The procedure occurs during a pelvic exam. A speculum, which is an instrument used to dilate the vagina in order to visualize the vagina and cervix, is inserted into the patient’s vagina using lubricant. Once the speculum is in place, the physician will insert instruments one at a time to take samples of cells from the cervix. A brush and spatula will be inserted in order to take samples of cells. The swab occurs quickly causing no pain, just some discomfort. The samples are then sent to the lab for testing, and the pelvic exam continues.

Risks and Complications

Common complications of a pap test include some mild discomfort, cramping, and light vaginal bleeding after the test, though none are serious. Another risk is receiving false results such as a false positive or a false negative.


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