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CMAJ. 2003 Sep 30;169(7):666-9.

Cervical cleaning improves Pap smear quality.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.



Cervical Papanicolaou (Pap) smear screening is an effective method of detecting cytological changes in the cervix before they lead to cervical cancer. However, the quality of a Pap smear can be compromised by inflammatory exudate, inadequate cellularity or failure to sample the transformation zone. We evaluated the effect of routine cervical cleaning on Pap smear quality.


In a primary care setting, we compared the quality of Pap smears obtained after cervical cleaning (with a dry, oversized cotton swab) with the quality of historical control slides obtained from the same women without prior cervical cleaning. The results for both groups were then compared with statistical averages for the province of British Columbia.


Inflammatory exudate was reported in 1 (0.3%) of the 334 study smears and 72 (11.0%) of the 652 control smears (p < 0.001). Inadequate endocervical or metaplastic squamous cells were reported in 11 (3.3%) of the study smears and 90 (13.8%) of the control smears (p < 0.001). Inadequate cellularity was reported in 13 (3.9%) of the study smears and 9 (1.4%) of the control smears (p = 0.01). There were similar statistical differences between the study group and provincial averages. The results for the control group did not differ significantly from provincial averages (inflammatory exudate, 11.3%; inadequate endocervical cells, 14.7%; and poor cellularity, 2.7%).


Prior cervical cleaning with an oversized cotton swab was associated with a lower frequency of smears with inflammatory exudate or inadequate endocervical cells and, to a lesser degree, a higher frequency of smears with inadequate cellularity.

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