Abnormal Pap Test - Exams and Tests
You may have a
Pap test as part of your routine gynecologic exam. A
Pap test is used to identify abnormal cell changes on your
cervix and to screen for
cervical cancer. Pap test screening is the most
effective way to detect early abnormal cervical cell changes.
Women older than age 30 may have a screening test for HPV infection at
the same time they have their Pap test.1
Pap test screening schedule
The recommended Pap test schedule is based on your age and on things that increase your risk. For most women, it is best to have a Pap test every 1 to 3 years. Talk to your doctor about when to have your first Pap test and how often to have this test.
Abnormal Pap test result
If your Pap test result is abnormal, the lab will use
the Bethesda system (TBS) to describe how severe the problem is. Your doctor will use these results to decide how to treat the problem.
Following an abnormal Pap test
result, more tests may be needed to determine whether an infection is
present or to determine the severity of cervical cell changes. These additional
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test. HPV testing is
done to identify high-risk types of HPV infection. If your abnormal Pap test is
caused by HPV, knowing whether you have a high-risk type of HPV can help guide
your evaluation and treatment decisions.
- Colposcopy and cervical biopsy. A colposcopy uses a magnifying instrument
called a colposcope to look at the vagina and the cervix. Cell
abnormalities (dysplasia) that might be missed by the naked eye can
be seen with the colposcope. A cervical biopsy removes a small piece of the cervix so the
tissue can be examined under a microscope.
- Cone biopsy. This is an extensive form of a cervical
biopsy. It is called a cone biopsy because a cone-shaped wedge of tissue is
removed from the cervix and examined under a microscope. A cone biopsy may also
serve as treatment by removing the abnormal cervical cells.
For more information, see:
- Pap Test: Should I Have Colposcopy if My Pap Test Shows Minor Cell Changes?
For information on tests to diagnose a specific
infection, see the specific topic:
- Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)
- Genital Herpes
- Bacterial Vaginosis
- Vaginal Yeast Infections
What to think about
liquid-based collection, are being used in many areas
of the United States. Liquid-based collection methods allow testing for HPV at
the same time as a Pap test, but these methods may not be available everywhere and
may be more costly.
The terms used to report Pap test results vary
depending on which classification system is used. The Bethesda system (TBS) is
used by most labs in North America. Other classification systems are used
around the world.
- The Bethesda system (TBS) classifies
cervical cell changes by type of abnormality, such as
atypical squamous cells (ASC).
- Older classification systems use the term dysplasia to describe cervical cell
changes or describe the changes as mild, moderate, or severe.