My Pap Smear Results Were Abnormal: What Now?

Getting regular Pap smears can save your life. Pap tests look for abnormal changes to cervical cells and are an important way to detect cervical cancer at its earliest stages. Scheduling and visiting your gynecologist for routine Pap tests play a key role in preventative health for women. 

While receiving an abnormal result can understandably cause fear and anxiety, try not to panic. Abnormal Pap results are common and don’t always mean anything scary. Read on to learn what abnormal Pap tests mean and what steps you should take next.

Routine health exams can often take a back seat to other responsibilities. It’s easy to put off getting a Pap test when you have career demands and a family to care for. At Capital Women’s Care, our team of providers wants women to know that getting your regular Pap test is one of the most important things you can do for your gynecological wellness. Catching cervical cancer early greatly improves the chances of successful treatment.

What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a simple but vital test that looks for abnormal changes to cervical cells. This highly sensitive test can pick up cervical cancer in its early stages and even detect changes that have a likelihood of becoming cancer. This means that a Pap smear can be the first step in stopping cervical cancer in its tracks before it develops. 

This crucial exam is performed in the office and takes about 10-20 minutes. The screening test involves swabbing a sample of your cervical cells during a pelvic exam. Your doctor forwards the sample to a laboratory and receives the result within a few days. 

Understanding Pap smear results

 The first thing you should know is that abnormal Pap results are common. It helps to familiarize yourself with Pap screening results so that you know what your abnormal test means. Your provider discusses your results with you and answers any questions you may have.

An abnormal Pap test result means that some of the cells of your cervix have undergone changes. It should provide you with some relief to know that in most cases, this does not mean you have cervical cancer.

Inflammation and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause abnormal Pap results. In fact, HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer.

Cervical cells that have only mild changes are considered low grade. On the other hand, high-grade cells look much less like normal cells and have a higher risk of going on to become cancer. 

The following are common Pap results:

Atypical squamous cells

This abnormal result is the most common and means that squamous cells on the surface of your cervix don’t look normal. This can happen as a result of an infection.

Atypical glandular cells

This result means that some of your glandular cells don’t look normal, and it may signal precancerous changes.

Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions

These are mild changes that are most often caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). These changes may go away on their own.

High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions

This is a more serious abnormal result that means HPV is present and causing more severe changes to cervical cells that could turn into cancer.

Schedule a follow-up if your results are abnormal

In many cases, Pap smear results come back normal and you won’t have anything to worry

about other than scheduling your next Pap test. But there are times when Pap results are abnormal. 

In the case of abnormal results, your Capital Women’s Care provider requests that you schedule a follow-up visit to review your results and discuss the next steps. It’s important that you schedule and attend this follow-up appointment so that you and your provider can address potential issues and keep your health on the right track.

Depending on your specific results, your provider may recommend simply watching and waiting to keep an eye on low-grade cells that are less likely to turn into a serious problem. We commonly recommend removing high-grade cervical cells to reduce the risk of issues in the future.

Pap screenings are an important way to prevent cervical cancer. To learn more about abnormal Pap tests and your options moving forward, contact the office nearest you to schedule an appointment. Our clinics are located in Arlington and McLean, Virginia.


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