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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

How It's Done

The Pap test is done by your doctor during a gynecological (pelvic) examination. You will probably be asked to remove all your clothing and be given a robe or gown to wear. Usually, an annual gynecological examination involves a breast exam in addition to a pelvic exam. You will also be given a cloth drape to cover your lower torso. Next, you will be asked to lie on your back on the examination table with your legs spread, feet sitting on rests and your knees bent. Your doctor will insert a lubricated instrument called a speculum into your vagina to hold the vaginal walls open for the Pap test.

After looking at your cervix and vagina to check for any visible problems, your doctor will gently scrape the surface of your cervix with a small spatula to collect a sample of cells from the outside of the cervix. Your doctor also will use a small brush to collect cells from the inside of the cervix. These samples will be suspended in liquid, called ThinPrep, and sent to the laboratory where microscope slides will be prepared and examined. Some doctors will prepare the slides immediately in the clinic.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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