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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    I have never had a pap test before. What should I expect?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • ACCF’s Vision is to protect and enhance women’s health by eliminating cervical cancer and enabling treatment for women with cervical cancer and related health issues, … View Profile

    A Pap test is a simple test, performed by a doctor or a nurse, in which a swab is used to take sample cells from the cervix. These cells are then tested for any abnormalities. For many women the thought of having a Pap test can be embarassing, awkward, or uncomfortable. However, it certainly doesn't need to be.

    At the start of the Pap test, you will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie back on an examination table. The doctor will then insert a plastic speculum into the vagina. All you need to do is remember to take deep breaths, and relax. The more relaxed you are the less physical discomfort you are likely to experience. The doctor will take a sample of cells from the cervix by very gently rubbing the cervix with a swab. While some women experience mild discomfort during this swab, it should not be painful. Following the procedure the sample cells will be placed on a slide or in a solution of liquidity, and sent to a laboratory where they will be tested for any abnormalities. Once the speculum is removed, the Pap test is over and you will be able to get dressed. The results from the Pap test will usually be available a couple of weeks following the text, but ask your GP for specific details about when you can expect the results.

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    Dr Shian Miller

    Gynaecologist, Obstetrician

    Dr Shian Miller is a Brisbane Obstetrician Gynaecologist who has rooms on Wickham Tce in Brisbane city and admitting rights at Greenslopes Private Hospital. She … View Profile


    Please don't be too daunted by your first pap test - the anxiety leading up to it is usually worse than the actual procedure!

    Wear comfortable clothing and clothes that are easy to take off. Only the lower part of the body will need to be undressed. It is best not to have it when you have a period as the blood can interfere with the test (and the last thing you want to do is have it repeated later) but if it can't be done at any other time, there are ways to get around it. Please remove any tampons and vaginal devices.

    With an experienced doctor, the procedure should be fairly quick. You will be lying down with the lower part of the body undressed but there is usually a cover sheet for dignity. Your legs will need to be bent for access. Sometimes, the doctor may ask you to put your hand into fists to place under your buttocks as this tilts the vagina so the cervix is easier to see. A speculum (a duck-bill shaped instrument) is inserted into the vagina - these days it is usually plastic but if metallic, may be a little cold! With sufficient skill and lubrication, the insertion may be unpleasant but should not be painful. The cervix can sometimes be a little difficult to find - sometimes it is tilted due to stretching of ligaments over time.

    A brush is used to collect cells from the cervix - some people feel nothing at all but some people can feel a quick sharp pain that is gone as quickly. Other swabs can be taken if necessary - such as checks for vaginal infection or STIs. The speculum is then removed. You can dress again. You may want to bring a pad in case the lubricant is messy - it is probably best not to use a tampon straight after. Sometimes, the brush causes the cervix to bleed a little - this usually stops by itself and is not a concern. There are not usually restrictions on baths, swimming, exercise or sex after a pap smear. So, yes, unfortunately you can go back to work!

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