Grocery Coupons

Grocery Coupons

Members can print free savings coupons

Brain Health Center

Brain Health Center

Learn how to live smart and stay sharp

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

Members save on e-
readers and tablets

Caring for loved ones?

Caring for loved ones?

Find the resources you need


Diseases & Conditions A - Z
powered by healthline

Pap Smear


A Pap smear (also called a Pap test) is a procedure that tests for the presence of abnormal cells in the cervix (the lower part of your uterus). Changes in the cells of a woman’s uterus may indicate an infection, cancer, or reproductive problems. For this reason, a routine Pap smear is recommended for all women every three to five years.

Reasons for Getting a Pap Smear

Abnormal uterine cells can lead to cervical cancer in some women. A Pap test is the easiest way to monitor changes in these cells. It is often combined with a test for human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which can also cause cervical cancer in some instances.

Who Needs a Pap Smear?

Starting at the age of 21, women should get a Pap test every three years. If you are HIV-positive or have a weakened immune system from chemotherapy or an organ transplant, you may need more frequent Pap tests because of a higher risk of infections and cancer.

If you are over 30 and have had three normal Pap tests in a row, ask your doctor about having one every five years if the test is combined with an HPV screening. Women over the age of 65 with a history of normal Pap tests may be able to stop having Pap tests in the future.

Preparation for a Pap Smear

You can schedule a Pap smear with your annual routine physical or request a separate appointment with your gynecologist.

If you will be menstruating on the day of your test, be sure to check with your doctor to see if you should reschedule. Try to avoid having sexual intercourse, douching, or using spermicidal products the day before your test because these may interfere with your results.

Since Pap smears go more smoothly if your body is relaxed, it’s important to stay calm and take deep breaths during the procedure.

Pap Smear Procedure

The Pap smear test is a fairly quick procedure that is performed by your doctor or OBGYN. You will lie on your back on an examination table with your legs spread and your feet resting in stirrups.

The doctor will slowly insert a device called a speculum into your vagina to keep the vaginal walls open and provide access to the cervix. Then the doctor will scrape a small sample of cells from your cervix using a tool called a spatula.

The sample will then be sent to a lab to be tested for the presence of abnormal cells.

What You Can Expect with a Pap Smear

You might experience minor discomfort both during and after the test. Some women feel slight pressure or pain in the pelvic area when the speculum is inserted and removed.

After the test, you might feel mild pain in the uterine area for the rest of the day. You could also experience very light spotting or vaginal bleeding immediately following the test.

Results of a Pap Smear

There are two possible results from a Pap smear: normal or abnormal. If your results are normal, you probably won’t need a Pap smear for another three years.

If the test results are abnormal, this does not mean you have cancer. It simply means that there are abnormal cells on your cervix. Some of these cells could be precancerous. Your doctor will be able to tell you what next steps are needed.

In many cases, a colposcopy will be performed following an abnormal Pap smear. This is a procedure that helps the doctor more closely examine the tissues of your cervix and the surrounding area. Your doctor may also take a sample of this tissue for a biopsy.

According to WomensHealth.gov, Pap tests aren’t 100 percent reliable and false positives and negatives do occur (Womens Health). An abnormal test is usually not something to worry about, as long as you follow your doctor’s orders and continue to get routine Pap tests for the next several years.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Mara Tyler
Published on: Jul 25, 2012
Medically reviewed : George Krucik, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
Symptom Search
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Drug Interaction Checker
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Pill Identifier
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Drugs A-Z
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.




Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

denny's restaurant member discount membership

Members save 15% all day, every day when dining at participating Denny’s restaurants.

membership benefits aarp budget rent car

Members save up to 25% and get other exclusive benefits at Avis and Budget Rent A Car.

Memeber Benefits Auto Buying Program

Save time and money on your next car purchase with the AARP Auto Buying Program.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


African American, Asian Community Page

AARP In Your Corner

Visit Black Community, Español  and Asian Community pages.

AARP Drivers Safety logo

Driver Safety Program

Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp. 

Create the Good

Create The Good 

Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood. 

AARP Drive to End Hunger Logo

Drive to End Hunger

NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP Foundation.