A Pap Smear (Cervical Cytology) is a test performed on cells from a woman’s cervix. Abnormal cells detected under the microscope give an early warning of potentially pre-cancerous cells, which facilitates further testing, and hopefully prevention of cervical cancer.
How the Test is Performed
Pap Smear is a simple test which can be performed by many General Practitioners or their Practice Nurses. It involves a vaginal speculum examination, and gentle scraping of the cervix with a small wooden spatula, to remove the most superficial cells of the cervix. These cells are then transferred to a glass slide and a fixative spray is applied to prepare the specimen for examination under a microscope. Some women experience discomfort during the procedure; this is usually mild and only lasts for a few seconds.
The specimen on the glass slide is sent to a pathology laboratory, where highly trained staff look at the cells under a microscope to detect subtle changes. The results of the test may take several weeks to become available and are sent to your general practitioner.
Medical Conditions and Symptoms
A Pap Smear (Cervical Cytology) is a screening test for early detection of abnormal cells on the cervix. It is therefore generally a test performed on well women, without symptoms. Symptoms of cervical cancer are relatively non-specific and overlap significantly with less serious gynaecological conditions, therefore a pap smear is the most reliable way to detect cervical cancer or pre-cancerous cells. Symptoms such as vaginal bleeding after intercourse, irregular ‘spotting’, weight loss, vaginal discharge and pelvic pain are usually not associated with cervical cancer, but the deceptive nature of this disease means that regular pap smears are an essential part of any well-woman program.
Test Results Explained
The results of a Cervical Cytology test are usually categorised as one of the following: (this is all changing... )
- Unsatisfactory sample
- Low-grade SIL – mild changes
- High-grade SIL – moderate or marked changes
Description and classification of abnormalities are frequently being updated in an attempt to achieve international standardisation and scientific accuracy, therefore different terminology may appear on your pap smear result.
The result may be accompanied by a recommendation, for example to repeat the test in 12 months. This recommendation may take into account previous abnormal smear results for the individual woman concerned.
- General Practitioner (GP)
- Sexual Health Physician
- Occupational Health Physician
- Pelvic Ultrasound Scan
Also Known As
- Papanicolau Smear