Pap Test

Cancer Types - Pap Test

What is a Pap test?

Illustration of a pap test procedure
Click Image to Enlarge

A Pap test (sometimes called a Pap smear) is a way to examine cells collected from the cervix, or the opening of the womb (located at the top of the vagina), for the presence of:

Why is a Pap test recommended?

A Pap test, along with a pelvic exam, is an important part of a woman's routine health care because it may detect abnormalities that can lead to invasive cancer. Most  cancers of the cervix can be detected early if women have Pap tests and pelvic examinations regularly. As with many types of cancer, cancer of the cervix is more likely to be successfully treated if it is detected early.

The Pap test is useful for detecting not only cancerous cells, but also other cervical and vaginal abnormalities including dysplasia (precancerous cells) and inflammation. Inflammation may be caused by:

Who should have Pap tests?

Abnormal pap results

According to the National Cancer Institute, when the Pap test shows an ambiguous or minor abnormality, the test is usually repeated to ensure accuracy.

If the test shows a significant abnormality, a colposcopy may be performed (using an instrument called a colposcope) to examine the vagina and the cervix.

A Schiller test may also be performed, in which the cervix is coated with an iodine solution. The iodine stains healthy cells brown while abnormal cells maintain their typical white or yellow color.

A biopsy may be performed in which the doctor removes a small amount of cervical tissue for examination by a pathologist. This is the only sure way to determine whether the abnormal cells indicate cancer.

A woman should always consult with her doctor about when and how often a Pap test and pelvic examination should be performed.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), general guidelines include:

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Cancer Center


Top of Page return to top of page