Pap Smear

What is a pap smear?

A pap smear is a quick, painless test used to detect early cell changes in the neck of the womb, which may later progress to cancer.

Cancer does not develop suddenly in the cells. There is a gradual change from normal, through various levels of abnormality, through pre-cancer and eventually to cancer. This whole process can take many years.

The pap smear detects these along-the-way changes and indicates how far along that road a women has traveled. Treatment can be given at an early stage and so prevent the later development of true cancer.

How is a pap smear done?

An instrument is placed into the vagina and cells are scraped off the surface of the cervix with a wooden spatula. The cells are put onto a glass slide which is then sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope. Should abnormal cells be detected, the client will be referred for treatment to prevent development of cancer of the cervix.

Who can get cervical cancer?

Any women who are sexually active can get cervical cancer.

Points to remember

  • Mutual one-partner relationships reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Use barrier contraception during sexual intercourse - either a male or female condom
  • See your Doctor or your Primary Health Care Nurse if you have any unusual symptoms such as bleeding after intercourse or an excessive or offensive vaginal discharge.

When to go for a pap test

  • Pap tests will be available to all women from the age of thirty years, at intervals of ten years (provided no smear has been taken within the previous five years).
  • In an HIV positive patient it is very important to do a Pap smear every year because they have a much higher chance of getting abnormalities due to prolonged HPV infections which eventually lead to carcinoma of the cervix.
  • A total of three free pap smears will be taken in a women’s life time.
  • Pap smears will be taken from all pregnant women, 30 years and older, and will be followed up with a repeat

Where to go for a pap smear

Pap smears will be taken in all Department of Health Services, or enquire at any clinic where the service is provided.

Quick Links

This page last edited on 30 May, 2023

The materials on this website may be copied for non-commercial use as long as our copyright notice and website address are included.

Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved - KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health

Disclaimer Website by KZN Department of Health