A pap test is an examination, in which cells are taken from the cervical mucosa. These cells are examined under the microscope. A pap test is intended to detect cervical cancer at an early stage. The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus.
A pap test is done in all women who have been called for screening and in women with symptoms that may indicate (a preliminary stage of) cervical cancer. These symptoms include:
- Vaginal bleeding during or after sexual intercourse.
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
- Vaginal bleeding in between menstrual periods.
- Unusual vaginal discharge.
At a preliminary stage, there is a small chance that subsequently cervical cancer will develop. A simple treatment of such preliminary stage can prevent major surgery for cancer many years later.
The cervix is lined with two cell types: squamous cells and endocervical cells. In a pap test is examined in the laboratory whether both types of cells are present and how they look like. Sometimes can be seen whether there are indications for infection or inflammation by bacteria or viruses.
The doctor or nurse opens the vagina with a speculum, so that the cervix is visible. Then, with a special brush or spatula, some mucus is swabbed from the cervix. Swabbing off the mucus can cause an unpleasant feeling. The mucus is spread on a slide or put in a jar and sent to the laboratory. There, the cells on the slide will be analyzed under the microscope. After the examination, some women may lose some vaginal blood, because the cervix has been touched.
A pap test takes about 10 minutes. Within three to five weeks after the test has been done, the results are available.