The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide
Diagnostic Tests - Pap Smear
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What is the test?

  • The Papanicolaou test, or Pap smear, is an examination of a sample of cells from your cervix (the entrance to the uterus, located at the inner end of the vagina) to check for cervical cancer. This cancer is caused by infection with a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Pap tests examine the shape of the cells under the microscope, to identify any that are clearly cancerous or appear precancerous. Today's Pap smear may include testing to see if you are infected with HPV. Only a fraction of people infected with that virus get cancer, but infection does increase risk. All women who are 21 or older, and younger women who are sexually active, should have a Pap smear every one to three years, and more often if any abnormalities are found.

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