What is a Pap smear?

ASK AN EXPERT

[.highlighted] Q: Dear Teal, [.highlighted] I have not had a pap smear yet. What is it really?

A: A Pap smear is a screening method used to sample the cells of the cervix to test for changes that could indicate precancer or cancer of the cervix. Usually, this is due to an infection with a type of high-risk HPV.  

Here’s what you can expect when you get a Pap smear: When you arrive at the doctor’s office, you’ll undress from the waist down and likely change into a gown. Your doctor or clinician will have you place your feet in stirrups and spread your legs. From there, they will use a speculum to hold the vaginal walls apart so the clinician can access your cervix. They will insert a cervical brush and you may feel pressure as they collect a sample. It’s not a comfortable process, but it shouldn’t take longer than a couple of minutes. After your exam, your clinician will insert the brush into a preservation solution and send it to a lab to look for changes in the cervical cells.

Learn more about Pap smears here.

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Liz Swenson, MD
Medical Director

Liz Swenson is a board-certified OB/GYN who has been providing care to women for more than 20 years. She has learned that women are genuinely interested in their own health and want to understand the science behind their medical conditions. Originally from Iowa, she completed her medical training in Northern California where she still lives with her husband and two daughters. She has worked in a busy multispecialty practice in Palo Alto and has taught OBGYN residents as an Adjunct Clinical Faculty Member of Stanford University. Now, with a focus on helping all women have choices and access to the gynecological care they need, she is excited to use her clinical experience to help improve the lives and longevity of all Teal patients.