First Time User? Enroll now.
*Vaccine availability and appointments* | Additional COVID-19 Resources | Testing
Please be aware that mask-wearing is required at all UNC Health facilities.
Home > Health Library > Pap Test
A Pap test is done to look for changes in the cells of the cervix. During a Pap test, a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix is collected by your doctor. The sample is then spread on a slide (Pap smear) or mixed in a liquid fixative (liquid-based cytology) and sent to a lab for examination under a microscope. The cells are examined for abnormalities that may point to abnormal cell changes, such as dysplasia or cervical cancer.
The recommended Pap test schedule is based on your age and on things that increase your risk. Talk to your doctor about how often to have this test.
Cervical cancer is often caused by a high-risk type of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Talk to your doctor about getting the HPV shots to prevent infection with the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer.
A Pap test is done to look for changes in the cells of the cervix. Finding these changes and treating them when needed will greatly lower your chance of getting cervical cancer.
You may want to empty your bladder before the exam.
You will need to take off your clothes below the waist and drape a paper or cloth covering around your waist. You will then lie on your back on an exam table with your feet and legs supported by footrests.
The doctor will place a speculum into your vagina. It opens the vagina a little bit. This allows the inside of the vagina and the cervix to be examined.
Your doctor will collect several samples of cells from your cervix using a cotton swab, a brush, or a small spatula. Cells are collected from the visible part of the cervix as well as from its opening. If you don't have a cervix, cells from the vagina are collected if a Pap test is needed. The cells are smeared on a slide or mixed in a liquid fixative and sent to a lab to be looked at under a microscope.
You may feel some pressure or mild discomfort when the speculum is placed in your vagina. You may also feel some pressure when the sample of cervical cells is being collected.
There is very little chance of a problem from having a Pap test. You may have a small amount of vaginal bleeding after this test. And you may want to use a pad or panty liner to protect your clothes from any spotting.
If the results were abnormal, you may need to have other tests. If the results show changes that could be a sign of cancer, you may need a test called a colposcopy, which provides a more complete view of the cervix.
Sometimes the lab cannot use the sample because it does not contain enough cells or was not preserved well. If so, you may need to have the test again. This is not common, but it does happen from time to time.
Current as of:
May 4, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineKevin C. Kiley MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of: May 4, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kevin C. Kiley MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.