Treatments and tests

Having a Pap smear

Having a Pap smear

You can have a Pap smear at your GP’s surgery, Aboriginal Medical Service, Women’s Health Centre or Community Health Clinic. Your Pap smear can be taken by your GP, nurse, midwife or Aboriginal Health Worker.

It is important you feel comfortable with the health professional taking your Pap smear and you can request a different person if you want. Some women feel more comfortable with a woman and request a woman for their appointment, even if their usual health professional is a man.

When you have chosen a health professional you feel comfortable with, call to make an appointment. Make sure you tell the receptionist the appointment is for a Pap smear as you may need to book a longer appointment.

Find out more about where you can have a Pap smear.

When is the best time to have a Pap smear?

The best time to have a Pap smear is mid-way between your periods, but can be done anytime except during your period. If you no longer have periods, any time is suitable.

If you have symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge or pain, see your health professional as soon as possible, even if your last Pap smear was less than 2 years ago and was normal. 

How is a Pap smear taken?

When you arrive for your Pap smear your health professional will ask you some routine health questions. This is a good time for you to ask any questions about the Pap smear or your general health. If you are feeling worried or anxious let your health professional know.

You will be asked to undress in private from the waist down, given a sheet to cover yourself and asked to lie on an examination table. The health professional will use a speculum to  visualise your cervix (the opening of the womb) by gently inserting the speculum into your vagina. The speculum can be warmed under warm water or lubrication used to make the procedure more comfortable for you.

Once the speculum is inserted and the cervix visualised, cells are collected from the cervix with a small brush and placed (smeared) onto a glass slide. This only takes a few seconds and once this is done, the speculum is removed and the Pap smear is complete.

A Pap smear is a quick, simple and safe procedure. Having a Pap smear may be uncomfortable but should not hurt or be painful. If you feel uncomfortable during the examination or want the health professional to stop, let the health professional know. 

What happens next?

The cervical cells that were collected and placed on the glass slide are sent to a laboratory. The cells are examined under a microscope to see if they are normal or abnormal. Approximatley 90 per cent of Pap smears are normal. 

It usually takes 1 to 2 weeks for your health professional to receive your results from the laboratory. It’s important to contact your provider for your results

What if I am feeling anxious about my Pap smear?

Women can often feel anxious or nervous about having a Pap smear, especially if it is their first time.

You may find it helpful to first meet with your health professional to discuss any concerns you may have about the procedure or the results you might get.

You can bring a friend, family member or partner with you to your appointment as a support person. 

How much does a Pap smear cost?

Medicare will cover the majority of the cost of a Pap smear. Some health providers bulk bill so there is no cost to you. Others charge a fee for the laboratory tests or for their time.

The cost of having a Pap smear differs between providers. When you are booking your appointment ask if there is a fee and what the fee will be for having a Pap smear.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

WA Cervical Cancer Prevention Program

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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