What is a Pap exam?
A Pap exam is an internal exam done by a health care professional to check the cells of the cervix (the
passage way between the vagina and uterus) to make sure the cells appear normal and healthy.
Why is important to have a pap exam?
Pap exams can detect any abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix. Abnormal cells in the cervix can
change to cancerous cells over time causing cervical cancer. If we can detect changes early, the cells can
be monitored and easily removed if necessary before they become cancerous.
What causes cervical cancer?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by high risk strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which
is the most common STI (sexually transmitted infection). If you are sexually active you may have been
exposed to this virus because it`s very contagious and many people don’t even know they have it. Most
times HPV goes away on its own, but sometimes it doesn’t and it can cause the abnormal cell changes in
the cervix that eventually change to cancer.
When do I have to start having a Pap exam?
In BC, pap exams begin at the age of 25. You then continue having them every 3 years or as recommended by your health care professional until you are age 69.
Does a pap test hurt?
No, it shouldn’t hurt, but sometime it might feel a bit uncomfortable. You may feel some different
sensations or a little bit of pressure in your pelvis or abdomen during the exam if you’re feeling nervous.
Deep breaths help to relax your pelvic muscles and take away the pressure. Going to the bathroom
before the exam also makes it more comfortable. The exam will be over in a matter of minutes. You are welcome to bring a support person (they can stand near the opposite end of the exam table) with you for the exam if you feel that would be helpful for you.
Does it matter what time of month I have a pap done?
Yes, it’s best not to have one during your period. Halfway through your cycle is the best time.
What exactly happens during a pap exam?
We’ve created this easy handout all about the process of a pap exam. It should be able to answer all of
your questions in more detail. If not, you can always text us at 250-812-7389 for more information.
Where can I get a pap exam done? Can I request a female doctor or nurse?
Doctor’s offices, youth clinics and sexual health clinics all offer pap exams. Some walk in treatment
centres do as well. If you want to book an appointment for a pap exam in Victoria at Island Sexual
Health, call 250-592-3479. Yes, you have the option of having a female doctor or nurse perform the pap. You can also visit the BC Cancer Agency website for more info.