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Middlesex-London Health Unit

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Pap Tests

A pap test involves a physical examination using a device called a speculum. The speculum is inserted into the vagina so that the cervix can be seen. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal). A small brush is used to gather cells from the cervix, and the cells are sent to a lab to be tested for abnormal changes.


Why do I need a Pap test?

 Pap tests screen for cervical cancer, which is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a family of viruses commonly found in individuals. There are many different types of HPV. Some types of HPV cause cervical cancer and other types cause genital warts. HPV is passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact during intimate sexual contact.

Most sexually active people will come into contact with HPV at some point in their lifetime. Usually there are no symptoms and most people do not know that they have an HPV infection. For most people, the infection usually clears on its own within two years.

Although cells on the cervix are always growing and changing, the types of HPV found on the cervix cause the cells to change and become abnormal. Often these abnormal cells return to normal once the HPV virus has cleared, but if it does not, a Pap test will show the abnormal cells to determine if treatment is necessary. If left untreated for a number of years, abnormal cells can slowly turn into cervical cancer.


Should I have a Pap test?

If you have ever had any sexual skin-to-skin contact, you need to have regular Pap tests starting at age 25. This includes intercourse, intimate touching or oral sexual contact.

Based on the latest clinical evidence, cervical cancer screening every 3 years is effective. Pap tests should be a part of your regular health check-up until you are 70 years old. The risk of getting cervical cancer does not decrease with age.

Pap tests can stop after the age of 70 if you have had at least three normal tests in the prior 10 years. If you have had a hysterectomy, talk to your health care provider to see if you still need a Pap test.

When is the best time for a Pap test?

Try to make the appointment for a day when you do not have your period.

Pap Test and HPV DNA Option

DNA testing for HPV can be used as a follow-up to abnormal changes detected in Pap tests of women over 30 years of age.

If you have a pap test at The Clinic, you have 21 days from the date of your last pap to add the HPV DNA testing option. If you want to select this option, an invoice from the processing lab would be sent to you for $90 by mail. If your last pap test was longer than 21 days ago, you may need a vaginal swab or pelvic exam and swab.

Date of creation: January 8, 2013
Last modified on: June 28, 2022


1Cancer Care Ontario Retrieved from