PAP-smear test (also called a Pap smear) is a screening test for cervical cancer based on the examination of cells under the microscope. The cells are collected from the cervix, smeared on a slide and specially stained to reveal premalignant (before cancer) and malignant (cancer) changes as well as changes due to noncancerous conditions such as inflammation from infections.
A Pap smear is performed by opening the vaginal canal with a speculum, then collecting cells at the outer opening of the cervix at the transformation zone. The collected 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; the squamous intraepithelial lesion system (SIL) is also used to describe abnormalities), which are caused by sexually transmitted human papillomaviruses. The test remains an effective, widely used method for early detection of pre-cancer and cervical cancer. While the test may also detect infections and abnormalities in the endocervix and endometrium, it is not designed to do so.
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