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Pap Test Q & A: What Every Woman  Wants to Know

Why do I need a Pap test?

A Pap test can save your life. It can find the earliest signs of cervical cancer and, if caught early enough, the chance of curing cervical cancer is very high. Pap tests can also find infections and abnormal cervical cells that can turn into cancer cells. Treatment can prevent most cases of cervical cancer from developing. 

Getting regular Pap tests is the best thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer. In fact, regular Pap tests have led to a major decline in the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths. 

How often do I need to have a Pap test?

According to new government regulations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which were released March 2012, you need to get a Pap test once every three years to check for cervical cancer, beginning at age 21—even if you are sexually active earlier. Once you hit 30, you have the option of getting screened once every five years if you choose to do Pap tests together with human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every time. Screenings should be done on a regular basis until the age of 65, unless you're at particularly high risk due to a history of precancerous lesions. Because these guidelines are new, and women may currently be on different schedules, it may take some time for everyone—providers and patients—to make this transition. 

How is a Pap test done?

Pap tests are a quick and simple test done right in your physician or midwife’s office. While you lie on an exam table, the doctor puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, opening it to see the cervix. He/she will then use a special spatula or brush to take a few cells from inside and around the cervix. The cells are then sent to a lab for examination. A Pap test may cause some pressure or discomfort, but it should not be painful. 

When will I get the results of my Pap test?

Usually it takes a couple weeks to get Pap test results. If the test shows that something might be wrong, your doctor will contact you to schedule more tests.  

Regular preventive care is one of the most important ways to maintain your health. It’s important to discuss any questions about Pap tests, and other preventive screenings, with your physician or midwife. To find a physician or midwife who is right for you, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH or visit

Reviewed by:

Thomas Bader, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. Dr. Bader sees patients in his office located in Upland, and can be reached at (610) 872-7660.

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