PAP smear for Cervical Cancer

Clinical definition of the PAP smear test
A Pap smear is a test which is used to check for signs of cancer of the cervix, by checking for a change in the cells in the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus or the womb, the place where the baby grows during pregnancy. The cells may change from normal cells to abnormal cells if there are signs of cancer or some kind of infection. Thus it is important to get regular Pap tests, to prevent cervical cancer.

Why is the Pap smear test done?
The Pap smear test is done in order to look for abnormal cells which may appear before cancer or changes which may occur in the cervix in case of cancer. It may be done as a preventive test for sexually active or menopausal women. It can also help to find noncancerous conditions, such as infection and inflammation.

What are the common signs/symptoms when the Pap smear test is done?
Symptoms of Cervical cancer are usually not visible at early stages. Hence, screening of women for cervical cancer has become quite important. However at advanced stages there may be symptoms such as:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Bleeding from the vagina
  • Unusual or heavy bleeding

Who should do the PAP smear test (Target population)?
Persons showing the above signs & symptoms must be tested. However, the PAP smear must be done regularly by a woman under the following conditions:

  • Those who have multiple sexual partners
  • Those who become sexually active at an early age
  • Those suspected to be suffering from an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) such as HPV, HIV, or herpes simplex virus (HSV)
  • Those having a weakened immune system
  • Heavy Smokers
  • Middle aged women undergoing menopause

What should I do before the Pap smear test?

Diagnostic procedure

Preparatory instructions before the test *

A special instrument called a speculum may be inserted into the vagina to expose the cervix and take a sample

A sample of the cervical cells is collected with a small brush or a cotton swab

The sample is then transferred on a glass slide and checked under a microscope to see whether the cells are normal

The following can cause a false result and hence must be avoided:

Avoid the test during menstruation

Avoid having sex for 24 hours before the test

Avoid Douching

Avoid using tampons

Avoid using vaginal creams, suppositories, and medicines

Avoid using vaginal deodorant sprays or powders

*Subjects suffering from any illness or on oral or injectable medications are advised to consult their physician prior to requesting any tests or procedures.

How do I interpret my PAP smear test results?

Reference Range*


No abnormal cells


Inference: If the Pap smear test is negative, it means that the result is normal. However, a positive or abnormal Pap smear results means that there are changes in the cells of the cervix, which may be due to various reasons.
‘*A Reference range is a set of values which helps the healthcare professional to interpret a medical test. It may vary with age, gender, and other factors. Reference ranges may also vary between labs, in value & units depending on instruments used and method of establishment of reference ranges’

Diseases/conditions related to the Pap smear test

  • Inflammation (irritation) of the Cervix due to infection of the cervix
  • Abnormal cells which could be precancerous
  • Cervical Cancer

Other tests related to the Pap smear test

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Pelvic exams
  • Trichomonas wet prep