The Papanicolaou (Pap) smear has been used to screen women for cervical cancer since 1940. Recently, a number of new technologies have been developed to improve the detection of cervical cancer and its precursors. However, there is substantial controversy about whether the new tests offer meaningful advantages over the conventional Pap smear. Ideally, these new tests will increase the early detection of meaningful Pap smear abnormalities, reduce the number of unsatisfactory smears and provide fewer ambiguous results. It is also hoped that these new screening methods will not increase the number of false-positive results, but will improve the productivity of cytology laboratories without substantially increasing costs. The new tests include liquid-based/thin-layer preparations to improve the quality and adequacy of the Pap smear; computer-assisted screening methods to improve Pap smear interpretation; and new-generation human papillomavirus testing methods that may be useful in triaging patients with atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance or low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. Evidence on these new tests is reviewed and the advantages and disadvantages of their use are discussed.