A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is part of a pelvic exam. A Pap test is usually done in the first few years after you have become sexually active and then yearly after that or when you turn 21, whichever comes first. It is the only way to check the cells on a women’s cervix for changes that can lead to cancer. It’s a good idea to get tested for STDs at the same time. Just ask your health care provider. Learn more about getting tested for STDs.
How is a Pap smear done? As part of your pelvic exam, your health care provider will take a thin plastic wand (the end looks like a Q-tip)and a tiny brush and gently wipe away some of the cells from your cervix. Most girls don’t feel anything at all. A trained technician then examines the sample of cells under a microscope to see if the cells are normal or if there are any problems. The lab then gives the results to your health care provider,who will contact you if the results are NOT normal.
What do Pap smear results mean? Although most Pap smear results come back as normal, it is not unusual for the test results to be abnormal if you are an adolescent. Precancerous or cancerous changes are even more likely to occur if you have several sexual partners, in part because there is a higher chance that you’ve been exposed to HPV, a common STD that can cause cervical cells to grow abnormally. Click to check out more info on HPV and other STDs.
If your results come back “normal,” this means that your cervix is healthy and you will need another Pap smear in about 1 year (make sure to ask you provider about this.)
Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was adapted from PlannedParenthood.org, a website that provides education about reproductive and sexual health.