What is an abnormal Pap test?
doctor says that your Pap test, or Pap smear, was abnormal, it means that the test found
some cells on your cervix that do not look normal.
A Pap test may be done as part of a woman's routine physical exam, because it's the best way to prevent cervical cancer. But having an abnormal test result doesn't mean you
have cancer. In fact, the chances that you have cancer are very small.
What causes an abnormal Pap test?
Most of the
time, the abnormal cell changes are caused by certain types of
human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a
sexually transmitted infection.
Usually these cell changes go away on their own. But certain types of HPV have been linked to
cervical cancer. That's why regular Pap tests are so important.
Sometimes the changed cells are due to other types of infection,
such as those caused by bacteria or yeast. These infections can
In women who have been through menopause, a Pap test may find cell
changes that are just the result of getting older.
What increases your risk for an abnormal Pap test?
Certain sexual behaviors, like having sex without condoms and having more
than one sex partner (or having a sex partner who has other partners), can increase your risk for getting HPV. And HPV raises your risk for having an abnormal pap test.
HPV can stay in your body for many years without your knowing it. So even
if you now have just one partner and practice safer sex, you could still have an
abnormal Pap test if you were exposed to HPV in the past.
or having an
impaired immune system also raises your chances of
having cell changes in your cervix.
Do abnormal cell changes cause symptoms?
changes themselves don't cause symptoms. HPV, which causes most abnormal Pap
tests, usually doesn't cause symptoms either.
If a different sexually transmitted infection is the cause of your abnormal test, you may have symptoms such as:
- A discharge from the vagina that isn't normal
for you, such as a change in the amount, color, odor, or texture.
- Pain, burning, or itching in your pelvic or genital area when you
urinate or have sex.
- Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts on
or around your genitals.
What will you need to do if you have an abnormal Pap test?
You may need more tests to find out if you have an
infection or to find out how severe the cell changes are. For example, you may need:
- Colposcopy, a
test to look at the vagina and cervix through a lighted magnifying tool.
- An HPV test. Like a Pap test, an HPV test is done on a sample of
cells taken from the cervix.
- Another Pap test in about 6 to 12
A colposcopy is usually done before any treatment is
given. During a colposcopy, the doctor also takes a small sample of tissue from
the cervix so that it can be looked at under a microscope. This is called a
Treatment, if any, will depend on whether your abnormal
cell changes are mild, moderate, or severe. In moderate to severe cases, you
may have treatment to destroy or remove the abnormal cells.
Frequently Asked Questions