A Pap smear is a test to check for signs of cancer on the cervix (entrance to the uterus). A doctor will put an instrument called a speculum into the vagina to open it, and then gently wipe or brush a few cells from the cervix to send to the laboratory for testing. A Pap smear can show if cervical cells are going through any changes that happen before cancer grows. It will also show if cancer cells are present.
Regular Pap smears make it possible to prevent cancer before it grows, or to pick up the cancer early so that it is more easily cured. A National Cervical Screening Programme aims to provide all New Zealand women with regular smears and recommends that a Pap smear be done every three years between the ages of 20 and 70 years.