What is a Pap smear?

Dr Priya Sharma

Dr Priya Sharma

BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery), 6 years of experience

January 30, 2022 Womens Health 458 Views

English हिन्दी Bengali

What is the meaning of a Pap smear?

Pap smear is also known as a Pap test. This is a screening test, mostly used to check and diagnose various vaginal or cervical-related diseases in females, like cervical cancer, vulvar/vaginal cancer, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, etc. 

The pap smear is done by collecting cells from the female’s cervix ( part of the female reproductive system which is the upper part of the vagina and lower part of the uterus ). The cells are scraped off from the cervix, the procedure is done in a doctor’s clinic and does not cause any severe residual pain.

The advantage of doing a pap smear is that the cervix cancer can be detected at an early stage, or any pre-cancer changes can be also detected. This improves the survival rate after the treatment of cervical cancer.  

Let us tell you in detail about Pap smear in this article-

  • What are the causes for Pap smear?
  • What are the steps of preparation before a Pap smear?
  • What is the procedure of a Pap smear?
  • What is to be done after the Pap smear?
  • What are the results of Pap smear?
  • What are the complications of a Pap smear?
  • FAQs about Pap Smear

What are the causes for Pap smear?

  • Routine examination after the age of 25 years in females
  • HIV positive females
  • Weak immune system
  • Past history of chemotherapy

Females in the age group of 21-29 years must get the pap smear done in every 3 years, 30-65 years of age should get it done once in every 5 years, above 65 years of age the females do not need pap smear test. Pap smear is not needed after the cervix has been surgically removed. 

(Know more about- What is Cervical cancer? Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Cost)

What are the steps of preparation before a Pap smear?

  • The pap smear test is scheduled with the gynecologist. 
  • If the female has periods on the day of the pap test, the doctor will reschedule it after the periods are over. This is done because the results are not very accurate if pap smear is taken during menses or periods.
  • Avoid sex, or using products and chemicals in the vagina/cervix region a day before the pap smear.
  • Pap smear is safely done in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Post this, the test is painful. 
  • Pap smear can be done 12 weeks after the delivery in females.
  • One must be relaxed, should have slept well a night before the procedure as pap smear test will go more smoothly if the body is relaxed. 

( Know more about- What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases? Symptoms, Types, Prevention)

What is the procedure of a Pap smear?

Pap smears are quick procedures.

  • During the procedure, the patient is asked to lay down on the back over the examination table, with their legs wide spread. The feet of the female are rested upon supports called stirrups.
  • A small device called the speculum is gradually inserted into the vagina. This device helps to keep the vaginal walls wide open to get easy access to the cervix. 
  • The doctor then scrapes small samples of tissues from the cervix walls. This can be done by spatula, brush along with spatula, or cytobrush ( combination of spatula and cytobrush ). A slight push and irritation might be felt during the procedure. 
  • These samples of cells collected from the cervix are then sent to labs to test for abnormal cells ( if any ). 

Females might feel very slight discomfort, cramping and mild vaginal bleeding immediately after the pap smear. One must visit the gynecologist if these symptoms persist and become severe. 

(Know more about-What is Ovarian Cyst Removal Surgery? Purpose, Procedure, Aftercare, Cost)

What is to be done after the Pap smear?

The patient can go home and resume daily activities after the pap smear.

The cells collected from the cervix are preserved before being sent to the lab. This is done either by keeping the sample in the special liquid  ( liquid based Pap smear ) or it is put onto a glass slide ( conventional Pap smear ).This is then sent to the hospital. 

What are the results of a Pap smear?

The 2 types of results of Pap smear are-

  1. Normal pap smear- This means the results are negative, there are no abnormal cells identified in the sample, and the next pap test can be done after 3 years.
  2. Abnormal pap smear- Abnormal test does not mean the female has cervix cancer. This can also mean the female has some precancerous cells that may or may not develop into cancer. The doctor may ask you to get pap smear done regularly if the results are abnormal. Also colposcopy is scheduled to get a closer look at the cervix tissues. Biopsy may also be done in some cases. 

( Know more about- What is Colposcopy? Purpose, Procedure, Risks, Cost )

What are the complications of a Pap smear?

The complications of the pap smear are-

  1. Vaginal bleeding ( mild ) or spotting of blood ( mild ), immediately after the pap smear.
  2. Severe pelvic pain.
  3. Vaginal / Cervix infections if the instruments used are not sterilised properly. 

Incase of heavy bleeding episodes, or severe pain in the lower abdomen (pelvic) region, or signs of infection ( discharge, foul smell, itching,etc ), the females should contact the gynecologist. 

( Know more about- What is Spotting? Causes, Symptoms, Differences between spotting and periods )

FAQs about Pap Smear

What is a false negative pap smear report?

This means that the pap test result shows a negative result, but abnormal cells are present in the cervix. This can occur when the cancer cells are small in number and go undetected, or a sample is not collected properly.

How long does the pap smear test take?

It takes a maximum of 5-10 minutes in the doctor’s clinic for the sample collection of a pap smear.

What is to be done before the pap smear?

One must avoid sex, using chemicals, vaginal medicines, creams, or foam gels around 2 days before the pap smear. One must avoid pap smears during periods.

Is it normal to bleed after the pap smear?

There may be slight bleeding and spotting after the pap smear. It is normal and it goes away after a few hours. 

When should you stop getting pap smears?

Females can stop getting pap smears done if they are 65 years of age, or after the cervix is removed by surgery. 

We hope we were able to answer your questions about Pap smear through this article.

If you want to get more information about a Pap smear and get a Pap smear done, you can contact a Gynecologist

The purpose of this article is to only provide you with information. We do not recommend any medication or treatment in any way. One must contact a doctor for the correct advice and treatment plan. 


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