Utah Cancer Control Program A Unified Cancer Prevention Approach

Pap Tests

Pap tests are used to find cervical cancer. Cervical cancer occurs in the lower, narrow end of a woman's womb (uterus) which is called the cervix.The cervix connects the uterus to the birth canal (called the vagina).

Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia. Having regular pap tests allows doctors to find dysplasia before it turns into cancer. Dysplasia can be treated. Pap tests are also known as pap smears.

Click on the links below for answers to some questions you may have.

What is a pap test?

A pap test is a simple test that allows a doctor to find any abnormal changes in the cells on the cervix. Cervical cancer screening using the pap test can detect not only cancer but also sores on the cervix that may lead to cancer.

How is a pap test done?

The patient will first lie down on an exam table. The health care provider will then place a special instrument, called a speculum, into the vagina. This will open the vagina so the health care provider can see the woman's cervix.

Once the cervix can be viewed, the health care provider will use a brush to collect some cells from the cervix. These cells will then be placed on a glass slide and be sent to the lab. The lab will look for any unusual changes in the cells.

What if they find something unusual on my test?

If something unusual is found on your pap test, your health care provider will contact you about what to do next. They may suggest having additional tests, or recommend treatment for any cell changes (dysplasia) that is found.

Here is a list of some tests or treatments your doctor might suggest:

  • Cryosurgery
  • LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure)
  • Cone Biopsy
  • Laser Treatment
  • Hysterectomy
Who should get a pap test?

All women who are sexually active or over age 21 should get a pap test.

Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should continue having regular pap tests if you are over age 65 or had a hysterectomy.

Cervical cancer doesn't usually have symptoms in the early stages when it is easy to treat, so all women should have regular pap tests. Having regular pap tests can even help prevent cervical cancer.

When should I have a pap test?

Women should begin having pap tests at age 21 or within three years of becoming sexually active.

How often should I have a pap test?

How often a woman should have a pap test depends on many different things. Follow the recommendations of your health care provider.

How should I prepare for a pap test?

Make sure to schedule your pap test during a time when you will not be on your period.

Also, for two days before the test, avoid the following:

  • rinsing the vagina (douche)
  • using tampons
  • having sex
  • putting anything into the vagina, including creams, medications, deodarants, etc.