Family PACT

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Your Pap Test:                           

What to Expect  

Woman for Pap test
Womans Reproductive Organs

Inside a woman's body

Talk to your provider about
how often to get a Pap test.

Department of Health Care Services Family PACT logo 

What is a Pap test?

A Pap test is done to check your cervix (the opening of the
uterus) for changes that could lead to cancer. By checking
for those changes, a woman can get the treatment she
needs before it becomes cancer.

Women should start having Pap tests when they are 21
years old. This is an important way to protect yourself from
cancer of the cervix.

What causes cancer of the cervix?

Cancer of the cervix is caused by a virus called human
papillomavirus (HPV) that is passed by skin-to-skin contact.
It can be spread during any kind of sex using the mouth,
vagina, penis, or anus.

There are many types of HPV.

  • Some HPV types can cause genital warts. Having this
    type of HPV, or having genital warts does not cause
  • Other HPV types can lead to cancer of the cervix.

Most HPV infections go away on their own and cause no

There are many ways you can lower your chances of
getting HPV.

  • Ask about getting the HPV vaccine. It's best to get
    the series of 3 shots done before you start having
  • The fewer people you have sex with, the lower your
    chances of getting the HPV.
  • Use condoms every time you have sex.

How often should I get a Pap test?

It depends!

  • You should have your first Pap test when
    you are 21 years old.
  • If you are between 21 and 65, you should
    get a Pap test every 3 years.

Some women may need a Pap test more often,
especially if you have had an abnormal test in
the past. Your provider will discuss with you how
often you should come for a Pap test.

What should I do ahead of time?

If this is your first Pap test, you may be a little
worried and uneasy. This is normal. Schedule
the Pap test for a time when you will not be on
your period. For about 48 hours before the test,
do not:

  • Have sex
  • Use any creams, lubricant, douche or other
    products inside your vagina

These things can affect the result of the Pap test.

If you would like, you can ask a family member
or friend to come with you. 

What happens during the visit? 

Your provider will ask you questions about your
medical history. You may be weighed and have
your blood pressure checked. You will be given
a gown or drape, and asked to undress from the
waist down.

The Pap test is taken during a pelvic exam.
An instrument called a "speculum" is gently
placed inside the vagina and opened just

enough so that the cervix can be seen.

  • You will lie down on
    on your back on the
    exam table, and the
    provider will help
    you to place your
    feet in the foot rests
    at the end of the
    table. Your legs will
    be apart so that the
    provider can gently
    place the speculum
    into your vagina.

A speculum is made
of plastic or metal.

  • A soft swab or brush is used to take a
    sample of cells from the cervix. This
    takes about 30 seconds. You may feel
    some discomfort or pressure, but it
    should not hurt. Tell your provider if
    it does.
  • It may help to think about relaxing your
    back, and taking slow, deep breaths. 

What happens after the exam?

Your provider will talk to you about:

  • How you will get your result.
  • When you will need your next exam or
    Pap test.

© 2012 Department of Health Care Services, Office of Family Planning. Revised 2017.
Any one shown in these photos is a model. The photos are used for illustrative purposes only.                                                                                 
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OF2459 Pap Test ENG