We have developed the Psychosocial Effects of Abnormal Pap Smears Questionnaire (PEAPS-Q) which measures distress experienced by women undergoing follow-up investigation after an abnormal Pap smear result. A thorough literature review and qualitative research resulted in the development of a questionnaire which was tested on 350 women attending a Family Planning New South Wales (FPNSW) clinic. This sample included women at different stages of management after detection of a cervical abnormality: 93 first colposcopy clients and 257 follow-up colposcopy clients. Factor analysis identified four dimensions of distress: experience of medical procedures, beliefs/feelings about cervical abnormality and changes in perception of oneself, worry about infectivity and effect on sexual relationships. Repeatability of the PEAPS-Q was indicated by intra-class correlations of 0.88 overall and at least 0.60 for each scale. Internal consistency was shown by Cronbach's alpha of 0.84 overall and at least 0.72 for each scale. Validity was demonstrated by the correlation of scale scores with the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) score of 0.32 (95% CI 0.22-0.41). The PEAPS-Q is a valid, reliable and multidimensional instrument for quantifying distress experienced by women with abnormal Pap smears.