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Pap Smear (Pap Test): What to Expect

A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a screening procedure for cervical cancer. It tests for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus.

During the routine procedure, cells from your cervix are gently scraped away and examined for abnormal growth. The procedure is done at your doctor’s office. It may be mildly uncomfortable, but doesn’t usually cause any long-term pain.

Keep reading to learn more about who needs a Pap smear, what to expect during the procedure, how frequently you should have a Pap smear test, and more.

Who needs a Pap smear?


The American Cancer Society recommendTrusted Source that screening should start at age 25. Some women may be at increased risk for cancer or infection. You may need more frequent tests if:

  • you’re HIV-positive
  • you have a weakened immune system from chemotherapy or an organ transplant


If you’re over 25 and have not had abnormal Pap tests, ask your doctor about having one every five years if the test is combined with a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening. Current guidelinesTrusted Source recommend that people between the ages of 25 and 65 should have an HPV test every five years.


HPV is a virus that causes warts and increases the chance of cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are the primary causes of cervical cancer. If you have HPV, you may be at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.


Women over the age of 65 with a history of normal Pap smear results may be able to stop having the test in the future.


You should still get regular Pap smears based on your age, regardless of your sexual activity status. That’s because the HPV virus can be dormant for years and then suddenly become active.

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