What Happens If My Pap Smear Results Are Abnormal?

What Happens If My Pap Smear Results Are Abnormal?

Regular Pap smears are an important part of your self-care and well-woman regimen. Most of the time, Pap smears come back “negative” for cervical cancer, so you can rest easy for another year or two. But what if the lab detects abnormal cells?

A Pap smear is an essential screening tool that your OB/GYN uses to check for the presence of abnormal cells that could signify cervical cancer. If you find out that your Pap test results are abnormal, you may be frightened. But abnormal Pap results only rarely mean that you have cervical cancer.

At Innovative Women’s Care in Las Vegas, Nevada, our board-certified OB/GYN Marguerite Brathwaite, MD, FACOG, understands how unsettling and worrisome it can be to have abnormal test results, especially when it comes to your reproductive health. Here’s how we monitor your cervical health and what you can expect if you have abnormal Pap results.

Why you need a Pap smear

Each time you have a Pap smear, we look for specific changes in the cells of your cervix, which is the opening to your uterus. Your cervix is at the very bottom of your uterus, right at the end of your vagina. A Pap smear identifies cervical tissue irregularities that could turn into cancer in the future. 

Most of the time, the lab doesn’t find anything unusual in your cells, and so your Pap test is normal (i.e., negative). If you have an abnormal (i.e., positive) Pap smear, it means that the lab found irregularities. It’s important to identify these changes as soon as possible, because if you do have cervical cancer, it can usually be cured in its early stages.

What abnormal Pap smear results mean … and don’t mean

A Pap smear looks for cancerous changes, but an abnormal result doesn’t mean that you have cancer. One of the most common causes of abnormal results is the human papillomavirus (HPV). This sexually transmitted disease is a known cause of cervical cancer. If you’re positive for HPV, we monitor your cervical cells closely with frequent Pap smears. 

Other common causes of abnormal Pap smear results can include:

  • Sexual transmitted diseases, such chlamydia or gonorrhea
  • Smoking
  • Normal cervical changes due to aging 
  • Vaginal inflammation or irritation
  • Yeast or bacterial infections

You may also have a “false positive” Pap result. You can avoid a false positive test by avoiding vaginal insertions in the days leading up to your Pap smear, including sexual intercourse and feminine products (e.g., tampons, vaginal creams, suppositories, and sprays).

What happens after abnormal Pap smear results

When the lab detects abnormal cells, Dr. Brathwaite may recommend a variety of options, depending on your test results. For example, low-grade results indicate a small abnormality in just some of your cervical cells. High-grade results, however, suggest significantly more irregularities, which could become cancerous in the future.

Based on this information, we might:

Perform a colposcopy

A colposcope is a device that allows us to look at your cervix under magnification. Colposcopy provides a more detailed look at your cervix so we can identify the areas with abnormal tissue. We also take tissue samples during a colposcopy, when appropriate.

Remove the abnormal cells

If your abnormal cells could become cancerous, we recommend removing them. Our preferred methods are either cryosurgery or loop electrosurgical excision (LEEP). Cryosurgery freezes the irregular cells, while a LEEP uses a thin electrical wire to cut tissue away. This is an in-office procedure.

Have you had your Pap smear, or are you worried about abnormal results? Contact us for an evaluation, re-testing Pap smear, or treatment today.