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PAP Testing

This webpage is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

A Pap test, or Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). A Pap test can tell if you have abnormal (unhealthy) cervical cells,cervical cancer or have an infection.

Your Pap test should be done as a part of your routine pelvic exam.

[ Why and When to Get a Pap Test ][ What to Expect][ Booking and Preparing for a Pap Test ]
[ Abnormal Pap Test Results ]

Why and When to Get a Pap Test

You should get a Pap test:

  • Once you're sexually active.
  • If you're taking the birth control pill.
  • If you've noticed any unusual vaginal discharge, itching, odour or burning.
  • If intercourse is painful.
  • If you're having, or you've had, unusually heavy bleeding.
  • If you're having, or you've had, any unusual pelvic pain or lower back pain.
  • If you smoke.

How often you should get a Pap test depends on your past results, age, number of sexual partners, and lifestyle. There have been changes to cervical cancer screening (Pap test) guidelines in Ontario. Screening is recommended for women ages at 21 years and older until the age of 70, for all women who are or ever have been sexually active. Screening is NOT recommended for women under the age of 21*. For more information visit Ontario Cancer Care.

Talk to your doctor about how often you should get a Pap test.

*Source: Ontario Cancer Care

What to Expect During a Pelvic Exam

A pelvic exam is simple and brief.

First you'll undress from the waist down. Then you'll lie on your back on the examining table with your knees supported in "stirrups" at the bottom the table. Your doctor will then ask you to spread your knees apart to make your genital area easier to see.

There are four parts to a pelvic exam: the external exam, the speculum exam, the Pap test, and the bimanual exam.

External Exam
During the external exam the doctor will inspect your vulva (external genitals) for redness, rashes or sores.

Speculum Exam
Next, the doctor will gently insert a metal or plastic instrument called a "speculum" into your vagina. The speculum opens your vagina up so the doctor can see your cervix and walls of your vagina. The doctor will then swab the inner walls of your vagina to test for possible infections.

Pap Test
During the Pap test, the doctor will gently scrape cells from the surface of your cervix. The sample of these cells will be sent to a laboratory to be examined. You'll receive your results in about 2 weeks.

Bimanual Exam
Finally, your doctor will check your uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes for any abnormalities by putting two gloved fingers inside your vagina and pressing his or her other hand on your abdomen.

Your pelvic exam shouldn't be painful, though you might feel some pressure during the speculum and bimanual exams. You also might feel the urge to 'resist' the insertion of your doctor's fingers or the speculum.

Relaxing your body, breathing deeply and slightly bearing down will make all this more comfortable for you!

Booking and Preparing for Your Pap Test

For the most accurate results, try to schedule your pelvic exam two weeks after the start of your period.

Don't do any of the following in the 24 hours before your appointment:

  • have sexual intercourse
  • douche
  • use tampons

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