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Pap Smears: Screening for Cervical Cancer and What to Expect

A Pap smear, or Pap test, is a screening test for cervical cancer. It can catch cancer early, often even before it starts.

Pap smears are part of routine preventive care for anyone with a cervix.

In the last few years, evolving efficacy of Pap tests has led to changes in the guidelines for performing them. UPMC's recommendation is every 3 to 5 years between the ages of 21 and 65. But your doctor may suggest a different timeline.

Although yearly Pap smears are no longer recommended, it is still important to schedule an annual gynecological wellness exam with your ob-gyn.

What Is a Pap Smear?

A Pap smear test is a way to look for cells in your cervix that may be cancerous or pre-cancerous. Anyone with a cervix is at risk for getting cervical cancer. HPV is the most common cause.

A Pap smear may also help find other conditions, such as infections or inflammation.

Your doctor or health care provider collects these cells from your cervix and sends them to a lab to look at.

For the most part, doctors do Pap smears as part of a pelvic exam. (Though not all pelvic exams include a Pap test.)

When Pap smears happen along with HPV testing, we call this co-testing. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

What to Expect Before, During, and After a Pap Smear