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ARTICLE What is a Pap Test?

What is a Pap Test?

A pap test, also known as a pap smear, looks for changes in the cells of your cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that opens up to the vagina. It can detect infections, abnormal cervical cells, or cervical cancer.

Getting a regular pap test is your best chance for preventing cervical cancer because it can find infections or abnormal cell growths that may become cancer. It's also important at catching cervical cancer in its early stages, thus dramatically increasing your chances of being cured from the disease.

When should a woman start getting Pap tests? How often?

If you are under 21 years old and have been sexually active for 3 years or more then you should be having a pap test with your routine checkups. If you are between the ages of 21 and 30 you should be having a pap test, with a pelvic exam, every year with your usual check up. If you're older than thirty and have had 3 normal tests for three years in a row then you can speak with your physician about scheduling the test every 2 or 3 years. If you are between the ages of 65 and 70 and you've have 3 normal Pap test and no abnormal pap test in the past 10 years then you may speak with your physician about discontinuing the test.

Do I need to do anything to prepare for a Pap test?

There are a number of things that can mess with the results of your pap test. Two days before your scheduled exam do not engage in any of the following things:

  • Douching
  • Having sex
  • Using tampons
  • Using vaginal creams, suppositories, or medicines
  • Using vaginal deodorant sprays or powders


I've had a hysterectomy. Do I still need a Pap test?

This is something that you should discuss with your physician, because it depends on the type of hysterectomy you've had. If you had a total hysterectomy, which removes both the cervix and the uterus, for reasons not including cancer then you may no longer need to have a pap test. However if you only had your uterus removed and still have your cervix, then you still need to have regular pap tests.