The Papanicolaou test (also called Pap smear, Pap test, cervical smear, or smear test) is a method of cervical screening used to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous processes in the endocervical canal (transformation zone) of the female reproductive system. Unusual findings are often followed up by more sensitive diagnostic procedures, and, if warranted, interventions that aim to prevent progression to cervical cancer. The test was invented by and named after the prominent Greek doctor Georgios Papanikolaou.
In taking a Pap smear, a speculum is used to open the vaginal canal and allow the collection of cells from the outer opening of the cervix of the uterus and the endocervix. The cells are examined under a microscope to look for abnormalities. The test aims to detect potentially pre-cancerous changes (called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or cervical dysplasia), which are usually caused by sexually transmitted human papillomaviruses. The test remains an effective, widely used method for early detection of pre-cancer and cervical cancer. The test may also detect infections and abnormalities in the endocervix and endometrium.
In general, in countries where Pap smear screening is routine, it is recommended that females who have had sex seek regular Pap smear testing. Guidelines on frequency vary from every three to five years. If results are abnormal, and depending on the nature of the abnormality, the test may need to be repeated in six to twelve months. If the abnormality requires closer scrutiny, the patient may be referred for detailed inspection of the cervix by colposcopy. The patient may also be referred for HPV DNA testing, which can serve as an adjunct to Pap testing. Additional biomarkers which may be applied as ancillary test with Pap test are evolving.