What is a Pap smear?
Georgios Nikolaou Papanikolaou was a Greek physician who was a pioneer in cytopathology and early cancer detection, and inventor of the "Pap smear".
A Pap smear is a test that providers use to check the cervix for early signs of cancer.
To do a Pap test, your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant will gently push apart the walls of your vagina using a device that looks like a duck beak, the speculum. Then, they will use a small tool to lightly scrape cells from the surface of your cervix. The staff at a lab will look at the cells under a microscope to see if they are abnormal.
Do not assume that you are having a Pap smear every time the doctor uses a speculum. That device, the one that looks like a duck beak is used for other reasons, too. If the provider uses a speculum, ask whether you are being checked for cervical cancer. Pap smear are typically done by your family doctor, health department, gynecologist. You will not ever get a Pap smear in the emergency room.
Pap tests can find cancer cells or cells that could turn into cancer, called "precancer." Precancer can be treated to try to prevent it from turning into cancer. The test can also usually find cancer in the early stages, when it can be treated or even cured.