Pap smears are routine screenings to check for cervical cancer, the fourth-most common type of cancer in women. Most women should get Pap smears every three years or so, because it’s the best way to detect cervical cancer as early as possible — when it’s most treatable.
In a Pap smear, your doctor takes a small sample of cells from your cervix and sends the sample to a lab, where it’s evaluated for signs of precancer or cancer. You get the results in about 1-3 weeks after your appointment.
Most of the time, Pap smears come back normal and there’s nothing you need to do until it’s time for your next screening. But sometimes, Pap smear results come back abnormal.
Abnormal Pap results mean unusual cells were found during your test. Learning that your Pap smear results were abnormal can be scary, but abnormal results don’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. Daniel McDonald, MD, Marc Wilson, MD, and our team at OB/GYN Specialists can help.
Here’s what you need to know if your results came back differently than you expected.
Possible causes of abnormal Pap smear results
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of abnormal Pap smear results. It’s also the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States, and about 80% of women will get a form of it at some point.
HPV doesn’t have noticeable symptoms, but a Pap smear can identify it. Most types of HPV go away on their own with time. However, certain strains of HPV can turn into cervical cancer.
Having HPV increases your risk of cervical cancer, and it’s the most common reason women get abnormal Pap results. You may also get abnormal results if precancerous or cancerous cells are already present.
But sometimes, a health issue that’s unrelated to cancer can also cause abnormal Pap results. These include:
- Hormonal changes from pregnancy or menopause
- Infection, like a yeast infection
- Noncancerous cysts or growths
- Smoking or tobacco use
- Other health conditions, like an autoimmune disorder or diabetes
It’s important to recognize that no health screening is 100% accurate. Your Pap smear may detect abnormal cells when there are none, although it’s rare. Despite this, getting regular Pap smears is still considered the best way to protect against cervical cancer.
Your next steps after an abnormal Pap smear
If your Pap smear results are abnormal, our team typically calls you to share the results. Although abnormal results can be scary, there’s no need to panic.
Your next steps depend on your current and past Pap results, your medical history, and your other risk factors for cervical cancer. If you’re in generally good health and this is your first abnormal Pap smear, we may recommend a follow-up Pap smear in 6-12 months to monitor any changes.
If you have a higher risk of cervical cancer, you’ve had abnormal Pap results in the past, or you have HPV, we often recommend additional testing. These tests may include colposcopy to examine your cervix, vagina, and vulva, or a biopsy of the area in question.
We review your results with you, help you understand your diagnosis, and work with you to determine an action plan based on the results of your testing. Many causes of abdominal results are treatable, and treating these health issues early helps lower your risk of cervical cancer.
It’s normal to be nervous after getting abnormal Pap results, but you don’t have to navigate it alone. Schedule a consultation with our team at OB/GYN Specialists to find out what to do next. Call our Denton, Texas, office at 940-202-0566 or send us a message online.