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Pap Test


A Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is a simple procedure that collects cells from the cervix to be examined under a microscope. This test can detect not only cervical cancer, but also changes in the cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future.

With regular Pap tests, the chances of developing cervical cancer drop substantially. If cervical cancer does develop, the chances of a cure are as high as 90% if the cancer is discovered early. The Pap test is the best tool to detect cervical cancer in its earliest stage.

Because some activities can disguise abnormal cells and affect Pap test results, your provider may suggest that you:

  • Do not douche for 48 hours before the test.
  • Do not have sexual intercourse for 48 hours before the test.
  • Do not use vaginal medicines (except as directed by a provider) or birth control foams, creams, or jellies for 48 hours before the test.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women have their first Pap test at age 21. After age 21, the guidelines for a Pap test are as follows:

Age Frequency
21 to 29 Pap test every three years.
30 to 65 Pap test and HPV test (co-testing) every five years (preferred) OR a Pap test alone every three years (acceptable).
Over 65
No more Pap tests are necessary if:
  • You do not have a history of dysplasia or cancer AND
  • You’ve had three negative Pap test results in a row OR
  • You’ve had two negative co-test results in a row within the past 10 years.
In addition, women who’ve had at least 20 years of normal Pap test results since a dysplasia diagnosis do not need further Pap tests.
Any Age
No more Pap tests are necessary if:
  • You have had a hysterectomy for benign reasons AND
  • You have no history of cervical cancer