What is a Pap Test?
A Pap test is an important screening test which shows changes in the cells of the cervix which could lead to cancer. (The cervix is the opening to the uterus.)
When a Pap test is done, some cells from the cervix are taken for examination. This is done during routine pelvic exam.
What is a "pelvic exam"?
A pelvic exam is actually quite simple and brief, it involves...
- undressing from the waist down
- lying on an examining table in the doctors' office your feet or knees supported in "stirrups" located at the bottom end of the table.
- your knees spread open so the genital area is easier to see
There are four parts to the exam...
- the vulva (external genitals) are inspected for redness, rashes or sores
- a metal/plastic instrument (warmed up beforehand) called a “speculum” is gently inserted into the vagina to spread its flexible walls so the cervix (the opening to the uterus) and the inside of the vagina can be viewed
- the nurse/doctor will then swab the inner walls of your vagina and cervix, to test for possible infections
- the nurse/doctor will gently scrape cells from the surface of your cervix. The sample of these cells will be sent to a laboratory to be examined.
- wearing sterile rubber gloves and using a lubricating gel, the nurse/doctor puts two fingers inside the vagina to reach the cervix. The other hand gently presses on top of the abdomen. This checks the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes for any lumps, pain or irregularities
This should not cause you any pain. You might feel some pressure, which will increase if you tense and 'resist' the insertion of fingers or speculum. RELAX... deep breathing and a slight bearing down on the muscles of the pelvic floor will make all this more comfortable for you!
When, why and how often?
Cervical screening guidelines in Ontario have changed.
Guidelines now recommend starting Pap testing at 21 years of age for all women who have ever had any sexual skin-to-skin contact. This includes intercourse, as well as digital (fingering) or oral sexual activity involving the genital area with a partner of either gender.
If the test is normal, screening should be done every 3 years.
If the test is not normal, the woman’s Health Care Practitioner will make recommendations based on the result.
Women who are not sexually active by age 21 should not have a Pap test until they become sexually active.
Pap tests can be discontinued at the age of 70 if there have been 3 normal tests in the previous 10 years.
For more information please go to:
Before your Pap/Pelvic Exam
Some clinics/doctors advise that in the 24 hours before your appointment you:
- have sexual intercourse
- have a tub bath
- use tampons
- place any treatments or medications in the vagina
- try to schedule the appointment two weeks after the start of your period