Prenatal Testing Basics: Pap Test

What it is, who has it, when, why, and what it tells you.

When is the test taken?

A Pap smear should be a routine part of the gynecological care received by every woman over 18 years old and by younger women who are sexually active. It is also an especially important part of good prenatal care, and it is usually taken at the first prenatal visit.

Who needs to take the test, and why?

A Pap smear is routine for all pregnant women. The test checks for cervical cancer or conditions that could lead to cancer. At the same time, your healthcare provider will also test for infections including sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, which can present dangers to the fetus, including miscarriage or infection at birth.

What's involved?

During a pelvic exam, your practitioner collects, usually using a long, thin brush or tiny spatula. The collected material is transferred to a slide, which is sent to a lab for examination under a microscope. This test can be painless, or somewhat uncomfortable, but should be over quickly. Some women experience slight spotting after the test.

Your practitioner will use a cotton swab to painlessly collect cervical and/or vaginal secretions to be tested for infections and/or STDs. This material will also be analyzed in a lab.

When are test results available, and how are they interpreted?

Results are usually available within one to two weeks, depending on your practitioner and the lab used. If the Pap smear reveals abnormal cells, your practitioner may recommend a more thorough exam of your cervix and a repeat of the test. If an infection or STDs are detected, your practitioner will recommend a course of treatment to prevent complications during the pregnancy.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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