What does a Pap test involve?

The Pap test (commonly referred to as Pap smear) is a quick test that can be done in a few minutes by your doctor, nurse, community health or Aboriginal health worker in a clinic or consulting room.

When you arrive for your Pap test, the nurse or doctor will take you to a private room, where you’ll be asked to take off your clothing from the waist down, and lie down. It may be easier if you wear a skirt or pants, so you can take off the lower clothes while keeping your other clothes on. Your doctor or nurse will usually give you a sheet to cover yourself.

Drawing of a speculum

You’ll be asked to keep your knees wide apart as the doctor, nurse or community health worker gently inserts a speculum into your vagina. The speculum is made of plastic or metal, and holds open your vagina. Some doctors and nurses will warm the metal speculum to make the test more comfortable for you so your cervix can be seen. 

Drawing depicting location of cervix

Cells are then collected from your cervix using a small swab in a process that takes a few seconds. The Pap test does not take long and it is completely safe. It may be uncomfortable, but it should not hurt. Health providers are very experienced at performing the test and will do what they can to reduce your embarrassment or discomfort.

After the test

When the Pap tDrawing of cells being placed on slideest is over, you’ll be asked to dress, in private, while the provider prepares the sample. The cells are placed on a slide and sent to a laboratory where they are tested. Your doctor, nurse or community health worker will explain how to find out your results. If abnormal changes are found, you’ll be contacted for further tests.                                                                                

In 2014, for every 1,000 women screened in Australia, 8 had high-grade abnormalities. The screening process gave these women the opportunity for treatment before the abnormalities turned to cancer.

It may be uncomfortable, but most women think the discomfort of this test once every two years is a very small price to pay for avoiding cervical cancer. 

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