The Pap test (or Pap smear) is a screening for cervical cancer. The test looks for cancers and precancers in the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). Precancers are cell changes that might become cancer if left untreated. A Pap test is suggested as part of your annual pelvic exam/gynecologic checkup.
Pap Test FAQs
When should a woman have her first Pap test?
A woman should have her first Pap test about three years after she begins having vaginal intercourse but no later than age 21. Nervous about your first Pap test? This video can help you learn what to expect.
How often should a woman have a Pap test?
Cervical screening should be done every year with conventional Pap tests or every two years using a liquid-based Pap test. The difference between conventional Pap tests and liquid-based Pap tests is the way in which the specimen is saved once it is collected from the cervix. In a conventional test, the specimen is "smeared" onto a glass slide; in liquid-based tests, the specimen is put into a special liquid preservative.
Are there exceptions to having a Pap test every year?
At or after the age of 30, women who have had three normal test results in a row may be screened every two to three years. However, a doctor may suggest getting the test more often if a woman has certain risk factors, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or a weakened immune system.
Is there an age at which a woman can stop having a Pap test?
Women age 70+ who have had three or more normal Pap tests and no abnormal test results in the past 10 years may choose to stop cervical cancer screenings. However, screening continues to be recommended for women who have not previously been screened, women for whom information about previous screening is unavailable and women for whom past screening is unlikely.
Screening after a total hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) is not necessary unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or a precancerous condition. However, women who have undergone a hysterectomy without the removal of the cervix should continue cervical cancer screening until at least age 70.
About our Cancer Detection Lab
The Cary Dougherty Cancer Detection Laboratory is a full-service laboratory and cancer detection lab that supports all hospital services but specializes in obstetrics/gynecology and neonatology. It is one of the most respected in the nation, having processed more than one million Pap tests since its formation in 1958. An advanced state-of-the-art system for examining Pap smears, offered at Woman’s Hospital, enhances an already proven procedure in the fight against cervical cancer.