I had an abnormal Pap smear. What's next?
If you've recently had an abnormal Pap smear result, understanding more about the test can put your mind at ease. While Pap smears can help detect cervical cancer, most of the time, an abnormal result doesn't mean you have cancer. In fact, one study showed less than 1% of abnormal Pap smears result in an actual cancer diagnosis.
Instead, may different factors can cause your abnormal Pap smear. Your OB GYN can help you get to know more about your specific results and use other tests to check on your health.
What Pap tests will tell your doctor
Pap tests are a screening tool used to detect possible changes in the cells of your cervix. In some cases, changes in the cells may be minor. In other cases, these changes may mean you're at a higher risk of developing cancer - sometimes called pre-cancerous cells.
Either way, a Pap test gives your OB GYN vital information to care for your cervical health. If your result needs additional attention, you can take proactive steps to prevent abnormal cells from changing further.
Types of Pap smear results
- Normal or negative - This means your test didn't find abnormal cells, and you can continue your routine screening schedule.
- Unsatisfactory - Something caused the sample to be unstable. You may go back to your OB GYN to repeat the test.
- ASC-US - Your cells look abnormal, but the exact cause is unclear. According to the CDC, this could be causes by many things, such as an infection, pregnancy, or menopause.
- LSIL - This result showed cell changes that were mild. The most common causes is an HPV infection.
- HSIL - These are more moderate to serious changes in the cells of your cervix that have the potential to develop into cancer if not treated.
- ASC-H - The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says this result means changes in some of your cells raised a concern, and there may be HSIL.
- AGC - There is a concern with the glandular cells in your cervix. The National Cancer Institute says this can be a sign of cancerous cells or another condition.
- Cervical cancer - While your Pap smear can detect cancerous cells, this isn't typical. The American Academy of Family Physicians says most women who get routine Pap smears don't have enough time in between tests to develop cancer.
Depending on your specific abnormal result, your OB GYN will recommend your next steps. Some of the additional tests you might need include:
- Follow-up Pap smear - If the changes seen on your test are minor, your OB GYN may simply have you repeat your Pap smear or recommend a new cervical cancer screening schedule to watch for any additional changes.
- HPV testing - One of the most common causes of an abnormal Pap smear result is HPV, or human papillomavirus. If you have an abnormal test, the same cells may be tested for HPV. You might also have another HPV test to look for specific types of HPV linked to a risk of cancer.
- Colposcopy - This test uses a magnifying device to get a closer look at the cervix. It's performed with you lying down like when you have pelvic exam. The American Cancer Society says the test doesn't cause any more discomfort than a Pap smear does, and it's safe during pregnancy.
- Biopsy - Your OB GYN may also take a sample of tissue, called a biopsy. This tissue is sent to the lab for testing and can be used to better understand the changes to the cells.
Caring for your cervical health
While hearing you have an abnormal test can be concerning, it usually doesn't indicate a serious health condition like cancer. Based on your additional testing, your OB GYN may recommend treatments to remove or destroy any pre-cancerous or concerning cells. With the right care and follow-up, you can protect your cervical health and potentially prevent cervical cancer from ever forming.