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What Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean?

What Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean?

Chances are, you’ve had a Pap smear, and you may know that it checks for abnormal changes to your cervix that could become cancer. 

This test is an effective way to detect cervical cancer early, even before the abnormal cells have had a chance to turn into cancer. If you receive an abnormal Pap test, don’t panic. Most abnormal Pap tests are not due to cancer.

At the Center for Women's Health in Wichita, Kansas, board-certified OB/GYN Sharon Breit, MD, and our advanced practice registered nurses are devoted to helping women and girls thrive throughout all phases of life. Pap smears are an integral part of preventive reproductive care.

We generally recommend that you start Pap screening at the age of 21 and repeat every three years if you receive a normal result. If you receive an abnormal result, we discuss the next steps. 

In this post you'll learn what a Pap test checks for, the most common cause of abnormal test results, and what an abnormal Pap result means.

Importance of Pap screening

Cervical cancer, like many cancers, is often silent during the early stages. Without symptoms to alert you to a problem, cervical cancer can spread. Thanks in part to Pap screening, women who get regular Pap screenings rarely die of cervical cancer.

A Pap test is a quick and simple screening during which we scrape cells from your cervix for lab evaluation. Because Pap tests detect not only cancerous, but also precancerous cells, it provides the best protection against cervical cancer.

If you receive a normal result, nothing further is needed. But if you receive an abnormal (positive) result, you must follow up with Dr. Breit.

Most common cause of abnormal Pap tests

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the most common cause of abnormal Pap tests. 

HPV usually causes no symptoms and spreads through sexual contact, but your immune system typically clears the virus. When HPV does persist, it can cause cervical cancer. 

Types of abnormal Pap results

There are several types of abnormal results. The following are the most common abnormal results and what they mean.

Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance

This finding means that the cells on the surface of your cervix don’t look normal.

Atypical glandular cells

Glandular cells are involved in the production of mucus in your cervix or uterus. This finding means that some of your glandular cells are abnormal. Atypical glandular cells have a higher risk of being precancerous or cancerous. 

Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions

Also referred to as mild dysplasia, this finding means your cervical cells show mild abnormalities. These changes are usually the result of an HPV infection and may go away on their own.   

High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions

HSIL is moderate to severe dysplasia. This result is more serious than the low-grade lesions and requires attention. HSIL are cervical cell abnormalities that may turn into cancer if left untreated.

Adenocarcinoma in situ

This result means that there are precancerous cervical cells. This is the earliest stage and is very treatable.  

Squamous cell carcinoma

This result means cancerous cells are present. This Pap result is rare. Regular Pap screenings detect abnormalities before they have time to develop into cancer.

If you have questions about a Pap test or would like to discuss the results of your Pap test, call our office or book online to schedule a visit with Dr. Breit. We look forward to hearing from you.

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