The PAP Test is a simple test that analyzes cells taken from your cervix. It tells your doctor if there are any abnormal cells on the cervix that may lead to cancer.
A PAP test is simple, fast, and painless. It is generally performed as part of your annual gynecological exam. The doctor uses a brush to scrape a small number of cells from the cervix. The cell sample is sent to a laboratory for testing. At the lab, the sample is carefully examined using a microscope to see if abnormal cells are present in your cervix.
PAP tests are an important part of your overall health care. When and how often you should have a PAP test depends on your age and health history. You should have annual PAP tests if:
It is important to remember that you can have cervical cancer even if you are not sexually active or are not having menstrual periods. Most women should continue having annual PAP tests after menopause.
All women should have a routine pelvic exam every year. It is generally recommended that if you are under 30, you should have a PAP test every year. If you are over 30 and have had three normal PAP tests in a row, you can choose to continue to have annual PAP tests or choose to have a PAP test only every 2 or 3 years.
You should talk with your doctor about how often you should have a PAP test. If you have had a hysterectomy, talk with your doctor about whether or not you still need a PAP test.
Certain risk factors might mean that you should have a PAP test every year:
Most labs in the United States use the "Bethesda System" to describe PAP test results. This standard system helps doctors plan any treatment that may be needed. Under this system, you PAP test results will be placed in one of several groups.
It is best to talk with your doctor about what the results of your PAP test mean and about any follow-up testing or treatment that may be needed.
If your PAP test shows the appearance of abnormal cells, your doctor will most likely recommend additional testing. Follow up testing may be as simple as a repeat PAP test. Sometimes an exam called a colposcopy is recommended. This exam uses a device like a microscope to look at your cervix. The exam is done in the doctor's office.