I had an abnormal pap smear—what does it mean and what happens next?
- An abnormal Pap smear result means that cell changes were found on your cervix
- An abnormal result typically does not mean that you have cervical cancer, though changes may have been caused by HPV
- An abnormal result can mean many things, and it’s important to work with your doctor to understand both your result and next steps
- Your doctor may recommend a colposcopy, a procedure done to get a closer look at your cervix
It can be scary to find out you have an abnormal Pap smear. First of all, take a deep breath. There are many reasons for an abnormal Pap smear (also called a Pap test); and arming yourself with trusted information and resources to help determine your next steps is your best course of action.
In this article, we’ll discuss different Pap smear results, what they mean, and what to expect as you navigate next steps with your doctor’s guidance.
What is an abnormal Pap smear?
A Pap smear is used to detect changes in the cervix before cancer develops—and can even detect cervical cancer early. It involves collecting cells from the cervix using a smallbrush. (If you’re cringing, we hear you. That’s why we’re working on an improved, at-home experience!)
The sample is sent to a lab for testing.Your result will come back as either normal or abnormal. An abnormal result means that there are cervical cell changes that are not normal. This usually does not mean that you have cervical cancer, but that the cell changes may require further investigation. The cause of the abnormal Pap smear as well as the different abnormal results are often linked to high-risk HPV, which your doctor can test for as part of routine screening.
Here are some of the abnormal Pap smear results that can be found:
I had an abnormal Pap smear—now what?
Depending on the abnormal pap smear result, your doctor may recommend a colposcopy. This procedure may look and feel similar to a Pap smear, although this time, your doctor will use a magnifying device (colposcope) to look at abnormal cells within your cervix. Your doctor may apply a solution to the area of concern, which turns abnormal areas white. Once your doctor identifies the abnormal cells, they may take a small amount of tissue (a biopsy) for testing. These cells will then be sent to a lab for analysis.
This is an out-patient procedure. You may, however, experience some mild discomfort after the procedure, mild spotting/bleeding or discharge. These symptoms usually resolve within a few days.
From here, you’ll wait to hear from your doctor. Waiting on medical results is never fun, so ask your doctor when you can expect to hear your results and how they will communicate the results to you (e.g. email, a phone call, a follow-up appointment, etc.). Based on the results, your doctor will be able to guide you further on next steps, which may include further testing and treatment.
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