Pap Tests

The Pap test checks for cervical cancer. Cells scraped from the opening of the cervix are examined under a microscope. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina.

The Pap test is a screening test for cervical cancer. Most cervical cancers can be detected early if a woman has routine Pap tests.

Screening should start at age 21.

After the first test:

  • You should have a Pap test every 3 years to check for cervical cancer.
  • If you are over age 30 and you also have HPV testing done, and both the Pap test and HPV test are normal, you can be tested every 5 years (HPV is the human papillomavirus, the virus that causes genital warts and cervical cancer).
  • Most women can stop having Pap tests after age 65 to 70 as long as they have had 3 negative tests within the past 10 years.

You may not need to have a Pap test if you have had a total hysterectomy (uterus and cervix removed) and have not had an abnormal Pap test, cervical cancer, or other pelvic cancer. Discuss this with your provider.

What does the test result mean?

A “negative” Pap test means the cells obtained appear normal or there is no identifiable infection. In some instances, the conventional Pap test may be reported as “unsatisfactory” for evaluation. This may mean that cell collection was inadequate or that cells could not be clearly identified. A summary of other reported results follows.

  • Unsatisfactory: inadequate sampling or other interfering substance
  • Benign: non-cancerous cells, but test shows infection, irritation, or normal cell repair
  • Atypical cells of uncertain significance: abnormal changes in the cells that cover most of the external part of the cervix (squamous cells-ASCUS) or in the cells that cover the lining of the uterus opening and canal (glandular cells—AGCUS) for which the cause is undetermined; an ASCUS test result is frequently followed up with HPV testing to identify the presence of a high-risk infection with HPV.
  • Low-Grade changes: frequently due to infection with HPV, which in some instances can be a risk for cervical cancer; this test result may be followed up with DNA testing to identify the presence of a high-risk HPV infection.
  • High-Grade changes: very atypical cells that may result in cancer
  • Squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma: terms used to identify certain types of cancer; in these cases, cancer is evident and requires immediate attention.

Keywords: pap test; HPV.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.