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What Happens If the Results Are Abnormal?

An abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean that cancer cells were found during the examination. There are many causes for abnormal Pap test results, including infection, inflammation related to using a diaphragm or sex, and changes related to your menstrual cycle. Your doctor will evaluate the results to determine if further testing is necessary.

Why Would I Need to Repeat the Pap Test?

A repeat Pap test may be necessary if there were not enough cells collected during the test. Since decreased levels of the female hormone estrogen also can influence Pap test results, menopausal women may need to take estrogen before they repeat the test. This is not an abnormal result but is called unsatisfactory for evaluation.

What Is a Colposcopy?

Colposcopy is an examination of the cervix and the walls of the vagina. During the examination, a speculum is inserted into the vagina (as done in a Pap test). Your doctor looks through a magnifying instrument called a colposcope to detect cervical and vaginal problems that cannot be seen by the eye alone. During the colposcopy, the colposcope remains outside the vagina. Biopsies (tissue samples) of the abnormal cervical or vaginal area may be taken.

Colposcopy is not always necessary immediately after an abnormal Pap test. Be sure to ask your doctor about other options.

How Often Should I Get a Pap Test?

Pap screen testing should begin at age 21. Routine screening is recommended every three years for women 21-65 years old. For women 30 to 65 years who have a normal Pap test with a negative HPV test, screening can be done every five years.

Women with certain risk factors, such as being HIV positive (carrying the virus that causes AIDS), a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy, organ transplant, chronic steroid use, have a history of diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth or have had a history of abnormal Pap tests, should continue to be screened more frequently.

What Symptoms Should I Watch for Between Pap Tests?

Precancerous conditions of the cervix seldom cause symptoms. For problems to be detected, a pelvic examination and a Pap test are usually required.

When cancer is present in the cervix, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding. Bleeding may start and stop between regular menstrual periods, or it may occur after sexual intercourse or douching. Abnormal vaginal discharge is another symptom. Pain is NOT an early warning sign of the disease. These symptoms are not sure signs of cancer. But be sure to see your doctor if any of these symptoms develop.

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