What do doctors check for when a woman gets a pap smear?

I was just thinking about it, and I really have no idea what they are checking for. I know I’m a little naive about it, but I’m usually so ready to get the heck out of there, that I REALLY am not in the mood to ask any extra questions.

Is there a standard?

Do some doctors check for extra things?

What info can you give me on the subject?

The “pap” refers to papilloma virus, which about 50% of the population has. If memory serves me right, only about 10% of those infected will develop the warts. The warts can be removed. The doc takes a tissue sample of the cervix to check for this - if the virus is found, they can laser it to remove the affected tissue, and thus to avoid cervical cancer.
Don’t freak out if it comes back positive, they will take care of it.

-Courtesy of WebMD.

If that don’t answer your question, well, you’re WAY too curious about this stuff. :slight_smile:

PAP test FAQ.
Ukyo895, it is frowned upon to post large portions of content from a copyrighted source here. You should quote a small, relevant portion of it and provide a link to the source.

Pap is an abbreviation of the creator’s name, which is some long Greekish sort of thing that I can’t recall. They are actually taking a sample of cervical cells and looking for abnormalities which could indicate cancer.

The papilloma virus is correlated with cancer, but that’s not what pap stands for in this case, and I don’t know if a routine exam would check for it.

SouthernSky is wrong.

A “pap” smear was named for Dr. Nicholas Papaniculaou (sp?), who devised the test. Basically the doctor takes a swab of the cervix and sends it to the lab. The lab looks for abnormal cells that could indicate precancerous conditions or actual cancer. If the pap comes back abnormal, the doctor may do a repeat smear, or a colposcopy (a scope inserted into the vagina to directly visualize the cervix and take biopsy samples), or he may decide to wait and see. It depends on the patient.

A pap smear can also be used for detection of cervical inflammation, but is not reliable for detection of STDs; you’d need other tests for that, including the Human Papilloma Virus.


Most doctors also do a manual check of your uterus and ovaries to make sure everything is generally the right size and shape. They also tend to do a quick rectal exam, I assume to see if everthing feels normal there. Your doctor should also give you a breast exam and make sure you have been doing them regularly yourself.

Whoops - do I get partial credit? I got the “short answer” from a nurse practitioner friend years ago. Probably forgot the balance of what she said.
(I knew someone would fix it, though).

ukyo895, we take intellectual property rights very seriously around here. I have edited your post to delete most of your quotation from a copyrighted source. Usually it is best to quote no more than a paragraph of two with a link to the rest if your source is online. The rest can be read here: http://my.webmd.com/content/healthwise/70/17469

moderator GQ