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Preventive exam: what it is, what it is for and how it is done


The preventive exam is a gynecological exam indicated for sexually active women and whose objective is to evaluate the cervix, checking for signs that indicate infection with HPV, which is the virus responsible for cervical cancer, or other microorganisms that can be transmitted sexually.

The preventive exam, also called the Pap smear, is a simple, quick exam that does not cause pain, however, slight discomfort may be noted during the exam.

It is recommended that the preventive exam be carried out annually by women up to the age of 65, or according to the guidance of the gynecologist.

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What is it for

The preventive exam is indicated to investigate changes in the uterus that can cause complications for the woman, and is carried out mainly to:

  • Check for signs of vaginal infectionssuch as trichomoniasis, candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis, mainly due to Gardnerella sp.;
  • Investigate signs of sexually transmitted infectionssuch as gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, for example;
  • Check for signs of changes in the cervix related to infection with the human papillomavirus, HPV;
  • Assess changes suggestive of cancer of the cervix.

Furthermore, preventive care can be carried out with the aim of evaluating the presence of Nabothian cysts, which are small nodules that can be formed due to the accumulation of fluid released by the glands present in the cervix.

Preparing for the preventive exam

To take the preventive exam, it is important that the woman is not in her menstrual period and has not used creams, medications or vaginal contraceptives at least 2 days before the exam, in addition to not having had sexual intercourse or having performed vaginal showers, as these factors may interfere with the test result.

How is done

The preventive exam is carried out following the following step by step:

  1. The woman must lie in a gynecological position;
  2. A medical device is introduced into the vaccine canal to visualize the cervix;
  3. The doctor uses a spatula or brush to collect a small sample of cells from the cervix;
  4. The collected sample is sent to the laboratory for analysis.

The preventive exam is quick, simple, carried out in the gynecologist's office and does not hurt, however the woman may feel slight discomfort or a sensation of pressure in the uterus during the exam, however this sensation passes as soon as the gynecologist remove the medical device and the spatula or brush used in the examination.

After the collection, the woman can normally return to her normal activities and the result is released approximately 7 days after the exam. In the exam report, in addition to what was reported and what was seen, in some cases it is also possible that the doctor will indicate when a new exam should be carried out. Find out how to understand the results of the preventive exam.

When to take a preventive exam

The preventive exam is indicated for women who have already started their sexual life and is recommended to be carried out until the age of 65, in addition to being recommended to be carried out annually. However, if there are negative results for 2 years in a row, the gynecologist may recommend carrying out preventive measures every 3 years. However, in cases where changes are observed in the cervix, mainly related to HPV infection, it is recommended that the exam be carried out every six months so that the evolution of the change can be monitored.

In cases of women over 64 years of age, it is recommended that the exam be carried out with an interval of 1 to 3 years between exams depending on what is observed during the exam. In addition, pregnant women can also take preventive measures, as there is no risk to the baby or compromising the pregnancy, in addition to being important as, if changes are identified, the most appropriate treatment can be initiated to avoid complications for the baby. .

Despite the recommendation to carry out the preventive exam for women who have already started their sexual life, the exam can also be carried out by women who have never had penetrative sexual intercourse, using special material during the exam.

Editorial team made up of doctors and health professionals from different areas such as nursing, nutrition, physiotherapy, clinical analysis and pharmacy.

We regularly update our content with the latest scientific information, so that it maintains an exceptional level of quality.

  • SMITH, Elizabeth R. et al. New Biological Research and Understanding of Papanicolaou’s Test. Diagn Cytopathol. Vol 46. 6 ed; 507-515, 2018
  • MINISTRY OF HEALTH. Cytopathology Technician. 2012. Available at: <>. Accessed on March 11, 2020
  • MINISTRY OF HEALTH. Pap smear (preventive cervical exam). Available at: <>. Accessed on March 11, 2020