What's an abnormal PAP smear?


Your annual pelvic exam is an important part of your overall health. During the pelvic exam, your provider will conduct internal and external visual exams, looking for abnormalities, as well as a physical exam to identify any unusual growths or tenderness. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) “recommends a pap screening annually until age 30, then every two to three years if a patient has had three sequential years of normal results and does not fall into a high-risk category.” Your provider will make recommendations based on your history and any risk factors.

The pap smear, also referred to as a pap test, is a screening tool to identify abnormal cervical cells. During your pelvic exam, the provider will swab your cervix to remove a sampling of cells, then send them to a lab for analysis. Abnormal results mean some of your cells have changed and additional testing is required for diagnosis.

The typical follow-up includes a repeat pap test and, if the results are still abnormal, a colposcopy. During a colposcopy, the provider will examine your cervix through a special microscope and may remove a small piece of the abnormal tissue for analysis. Treatment will differ based on the diagnosis, but the most common treatments are cryosurgery (freezing) or removing with an electrosurgical loop.

Abnormal pap results can be caused by:

  • Yeast or bacterial infection

  • Hormonal changes due to menopause

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

  • Cervical cancer

Please understand, abnormal results for your pap test are not a cervical cancer diagnosis. It may be an infection that is affecting the cervical cells, or the cells may be pre-cancerous. In any case, early detection of abnormal cells will ensure the affected cells are treated or removed. Please contact your Capital Women’s Care provider should you have any questions or concerns about pap tests or your annual gynecologic screening.