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The Pap Test: Questions and Answers


This fact sheet addresses the importance of a Pap test and pelvic exam.

This fact sheet provides answers to the following questions on Pap tests and pelvic exams:

  • What is a Pap test?
  • What is a pelvic exam?
  • Why are a Pap test and pelvic exam important?
  • Who performs a Pap test?
  • How is a Pap test done?
  • How often should a woman have a Pap test?
  • When should the Pap test be done?
  • How are the results of a Pap test reported?
  • How common are Pap test abnormalities?
  • What do abnormal results mean?
  • What if Pap test results are abnormal?
  • How do terms for Pap test abnormalities compare, and which tests and treatment options may be appropriate?
  • How are human papillomaviruses (HPVs) associated with the development of cervical cancer?
  • Who is at risk for HPV infection?
  • Does infection with a cancer-associated type of HPV always lead to a precancerous condition or cancer?
  • Do women who have been vaccinated against HPVs still need to have Pap tests?
  • Have any studies been done to examine HPV testing and treatment options for mild Pap test abnormalities?
  • What are false positive and false negative results?
  • What methods are being developed to improve the accuracy of Pap tests?
Links to the Tool:
This tool is available at:


National Cancer Institute

Funding Sources

National Cancer Institute; National Institutes of Health

QualityTool Topic



  • Release Date: 02/2003
  • Review Date: 03/2007
  • Recent Summary: 04/2008
  • Original Summary: 02/2006
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Last updated: August 27, 2014.