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A Pap smear,
or Pap test, is used to screen for cervical cancer. It is also used to find precancerous and cancerous cells of the vulva and vagina.
Prepare for a Pap smear:
The best time to schedule the test is right after your period stops. Do not have a Pap smear during your monthly period.
During a Pap smear:
- You will lie on your back and place your feet on footrests called stirrups. Your healthcare provider will gently insert a device called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum is used to open the walls of your vagina so your provider can see your cervix.
- Your provider will gently take cell samples from your cervix and vagina. The samples are placed in a container with liquid or on a glass slide. They are sent to a lab and examined for abnormal cells. A test for human papillomavirus (HPV) may be done at the same time. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause changes in cervical cells.
After a Pap smear:
Your healthcare provider will tell you when you can expect your Pap smear results. You may have some spotting the day of your procedure.
How often to get a Pap smear:
Pap smears usually start at age 21 and continue until age 65. A Pap smear alone may be done every 3 years. An HPV test alone or with a Pap smear may be done every 5 years, starting at age 30. You may need Pap smears more often or after age 65 if you have any of the following:
- Abnormal Pap smear result
- Positive HPV test result
- A history of cervical cancer, or a high risk for cervical cancer
- A weak immune system
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) medicine when your mother was pregnant with you
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