Pap Smear: 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. Also called a Pap smear.
The Pap technique was developed by and named after George Papanicolaou (1883-1962), a Greek-born physician and scientist who moved to the U.S. In 1923, while looking at vaginal smears from women with cervical cancer, Papanicolaou saw cancer cells. After two decades of research on this subject, he reported in 1943 that both cervical and uterine cancer could be detected in their early stages with this test that has, since its inception, saved innumerable lives.
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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016