Cervical smear

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Also known as: PAP smear/test
Formal name: Papanicolaou smear; cervical/vaginal cytology

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To screen for early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could lead to cervical cancer and for certain vaginal or uterine infections

When to Get Tested?

If you are a woman over the age of 18 and/or sexually active; every two years or as advised by your doctor

Sample Required?

Cells from the cervical area (neck of the womb)

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

A cervical smear is a test used to detect abnormal or potentially abnormal cells from the vagina and uterine cervix (neck of the womb). Various bacterial, fungal and viral infections may also be detected using this test.

How is the sample collected for testing?

The method consists of sampling cells from the cervical area. A doctor or nurse inserts an instrument (a speculum) to open the woman's vagina. The sample is obtained using a spatula or brush. Most women consider the procedure to be only mildly uncomfortable. The specimen is ‘smeared’ onto a glass slide. In the relatively new liquid-based cytology (LBC) method, the specimen is collected as noted above, but is not ‘smeared’ but is put into a special liquid preservative. This cell suspension is processed onto a glass slide, stained and examined.

The Test

Common Questions

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.