Pap Smears: Answers to 5 Common Questions

Pap Smears: Answers to 5 Common Questions

What exactly is a Pap smear?

We often experience women equating a vaginal exam with a Pap smear.  A Pap smear is a type of laboratory test that is performed on women as a screening test to look at the cells from the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. The term Pap is an abbreviation of the last name of the scientist who discovered this testing procedure in the 1940’s,Georgios Nikolaou Papanikolaou.  The term smear refers to the specimen collected from the cervix that was then smeared onto a glass slide to look under the microscope.  This test is used to detect changes or abnormalities in cervical cells that have the potential to develop into cervical cancer.  The changes in the cells are caused by one or more strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

What are the guidelines for Pap smear testing? 

Previously Pap smears were routinely performed once a young woman began sexual activity and each year as part of a regular well-woman check-up. Beginning in 2012, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) and other women’s health organizations published new guidelines that recommend screening for cervical cancer in women age 21 to 65 years with a Pap smear (cytology) every 3 years or, for women age 30 to 65 years who want to lengthen the screening interval, screeningwith a combination of cytology and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every 5 years. (

How is a Pap smear performed?

A Pap smear should not be performed during your period and you should avoid inserting anything in your vaginal canal, including sexual intercourse for 48 hours before your exam. The specimen obtained from the cervix for a Pap smear is collected during a vaginal and or pelvic exam. During this type of exam, the provider will use an instrument called a speculum that is inserted into the vaginal canal and allows the provider to visualize the cervix by holding the walls of the vaginal canal open.  There are a few different collection devices that are used to collect the cells:  a paddle, a brush or a broom.  The provider will determine what device is best to use.  It is very common for the cervix to bleed a little after the sample is collected and you might notice a little spotting of blood afterward.

How are abnormal Pap smear results dealt with?

If you have an abnormal cervical cancer screening test result, you may need further testing. Depending on the type of abnormality found and your age, different follow-up tests may be done.  For a table that shows the types of abnormalities and follow-up recommended, please click here (provide this link:

Are STI tests performed with Pap smears?

The Pap smear itself doesn’t test for any other STIs.  However, during the Pap smear, your provider may choose to collect samples of the fluid around the cervix to test for gonorrhea or chlamydia.  Some providers recommend STI testing at the time a Pap smear is performed, but if you are sexually active and they do not, it is wise for you to request it.

Routine STI screening is performed regardless of whether or not you are experiencing symptoms of an infection.  Infections are often silent and may be present even when you do not notice any symptoms.  STI screening usually means testing sites that could potentially be infected (throat, genital or anal areas) for chlamydia and gonorrhea with a swab collection; blood tests for HIV and syphilis; and, in women, checking for vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis. A blood test for herpes simplex virus may be recommended, especially if there are symptoms that could indicate herpes or if you have been sexually exposed to an infected partner. Hepatitis A, B and C should also be considered if you have been at risk of infection.

Clarity Testing Clinic offers confidential sexual health medical services for men and women. The clinic provides testing and treatment for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), Pap smears, pregnancy tests and limited obstetrical ultrasound.

If you think you have been exposed to an STI, make an appointment today at Clarity Testing Clinic to be tested. Our friendly medical professionals are here to help.