The Pap test (also called a Pap smear) is a screening test for cancer of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. The test can help your doctor find early changes in the cells that could lead to cancer.
The sample of cells taken during your test has been sent to a lab so that an expert can look at the cells. It usually takes a week or two to get the results back.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
What do the results mean?
A normal result means that the test did not find any abnormal cells in the sample.
An abnormal result can mean many things. Most of these are not cancer. The results of your test may be abnormal because:
You have an infection of the vagina or cervix, such as a yeast infection.
You have an IUD (intrauterine device for birth control).
You have low estrogen levels after menopause that are causing the cells to change.
You have cell changes that may be a sign of precancer or cancer. The results are ranked based on how serious the changes might be.
There are many other reasons why you might not get a normal result. If the results were abnormal, you may need to get another test within a few weeks or months. If the results show changes that could be a sign of cancer, you may need a test called a colposcopy, which provides a more complete view of the cervix.
Sometimes the lab cannot use the sample because it does not contain enough cells or was not preserved well. If so, you may need to have the test again. This is not common, but it does happen from time to time.
When should you call for help?
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
You have vaginal bleeding or pain for more than 2 days after the test. It is normal to have a small amount of bleeding for a day or two after the test.
Care instructions adapted under license by Kaiser Permanente. This care instruction is for use with your licensed healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.
The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.