What is a Pap smear?

In 1928, Dr Papanicolaou discovered that cells in the cervix change in appearance before they become cancerous. The Pap smear, named after the doctor, is used to check changes in the cervix (the neck of the womb) at the top of the vagina. It is a screening tool to find early warning signs that cancer might develop in the future.

The Pap smear is a simple procedure. Cells are collected from the cervix and placed (smeared) onto a slide. The slide is sent to a laboratory where the cells are tested for anything unusual. If abnormal changes are found at screening, further tests will be done to see if treatment is needed.

The Pap smear is not for diagnosing cancer, but rather, for finding early changes which might become cancer.

A Pap smear only takes a few minutes. No drugs or anaesthetics are required and it can be done by a general practitioner, nurse or women's health worker.

The Pap smear does not check for other problems in the reproductive system. It is not a check for sexually transmitted infections. Women who are worried that they may have a sexually transmitted infection should talk to their general practitioner about the tests and treatments available.

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