Pap Smears and Cervical Cancer Screening

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer screening tests check the cells on the cervix for changes that could lead to cancer.

Two tests can be used to screen for cervical cancer. They may be used alone or together.

A Pap test. This test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Some of these cell changes could lead to cancer.

A human papillomavirus (HPV) test. This test looks for the HPV virus. Some high-risk types of HPV can cause cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer.

During either test, the doctor or nurse will insert a tool called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum gently opens the vaginal walls. It allows your doctor to see inside the vagina and the cervix. He or she uses a small swab or brush to collect cell samples from your cervix.

Try to schedule the test when you’re not having your period. To get ready for the test, your doctor may ask you to use a condom if you have sex before the test. Your doctor may also say to avoid douches, tampons, vaginal medicines, sprays, and powders for at least a day before you have the test.