Normal Pap test results do not completely rule out the presence of abnormal cells (dysplasia) or cervical cancer. The test may fail to find abnormal cells when they are present (false-negative). Having 3 normal Pap tests in a row reduces the chance of false-negative results. Or the test may show abnormal cells when they are not present (false-positive). Talk with your doctor about the meaning of your Pap test results.
A liquid-based Pap test method also may be done. For this method, the tools used to collect the cells from the cervix are washed with a special liquid that is saved and sent to a lab for examination under a microscope. The cells collected in this way can also be tested for HPV. But studies show that liquid-based Pap tests may produce more false-positive results.
A Pap test is not used to screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or cancer other than cervical cancer. If an STI is suspected, other specialized testing may be needed to confirm a diagnosis.
Vaginal self-exam (VSE) may help you better understand your body, know what is normal for you, and find early symptoms of infections or other abnormal conditions that might mean you need to see a doctor. VSE should be used along with (but not replace) a regular pelvic exam and Pap test done by a doctor. To learn more, see the topic Vaginal Self-Examination (VSE).