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What is a Pap Smear?

Pap Smear Test and Result Information


Updated June 11, 2014

The Papanicolaou test, more commonly known as a Pap smear or Pap test, is a routine test used to screen for cervical cancer. The test looks for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix that could indicate a precancerous condition or cervical cancer.

A Pap smear is not a diagnostic test, but a screening tool. Screening tests identify abnormalities when the patient has no symptoms, while a diagnostic test helps identify the cause of symptoms in the form of a diagnosis of illness or disease. The Pap smear helps identify women who are at high risk of developing cervical cancer. Since it is not considered a diagnostic tool, it is essential that women have one regularly.

In most cases, cervical cancer is a slow progressing disease. It can take years for precancerous cells to develop into cancer. This is why having a regular Pap smear is so important for women.

Read More About Pap Smears:

How is a Pap Smear Done?

During a Pap smear, a doctor or other skilled clinician removes a tiny amount of tissue from the cervix. This is done by gently swabbing the cervix with a small mascara-like brush or cotton swab. It takes only seconds to gain a sample and it is not painful. Some women do experience a mild cramping sensation similar to menstrual cramps when this is done, however.

Before leaving your appointment, ask your doctor or nurse how the office notifies patients of their results and when you should expect to get results back. Some doctors prefer to send results by mail and some do by phone. It generally takes about two weeks for results to come back.

More About Pap Smear Results:


"Pap Test." WomensHealth.gov. Mar 2006. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 11 March 2008.

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