the purpose was to investigate sociodemographic characteristics of women who underwent a pap smear test in manaus, amazonas, brazil, and identify the reasons why the women had the test. this exploratory study was performed with 281 women who had taken the pap smear test within the last five years in manaus. most participants were between 18 to34 years old (54%), had 5 to 11 years of education (54.4%), had a monthly income of less than three minimum wage salaries (84.3%) and were in a stable relationship (72.2%), with an onset of sexual activity between the ages of 15 to19 years (69.4%). the reasons for their taking the pap test were personal choice (66.2%), recommendation by a physician (23.5%) and gynecological symptoms (10.3%). women who received information about the pap test from health professionals had a greater chance of being tested within the last three years (p=0.008). women choosing to have the exam (personal choice) are prevalent, and the opportunistic service is provided to younger women, thus not reaching the group at greater risk for cancer. it is necessary to implement active recruitment strategies to reach women in situations of socioeconomic disadvantage.