What is an abnormal Pap test?
A Pap test may be done as part of a woman's routine physical exam, because it's the best way to prevent cervical cancer. But having an abnormal test result doesn't mean you have cancer. In fact, the chances that you have cancer are very small.
What causes an abnormal Pap test?
Sometimes the changed cells are due to other types of infection, such as those caused by bacteria or yeast. These infections can be treated.
In women who have been through menopause, a Pap test may find cell changes that are just the result of getting older.
What increases your risk for an abnormal Pap test?
Certain sexual behaviors, like having sex without condoms and having more than one sex partner (or having a sex partner who has other partners), can increase your risk for getting HPV. And HPV raises your risk for having an abnormal pap test.
HPV can stay in your body for many years without your knowing it. So even if you now have just one partner and practice safer sex, you could still have an abnormal Pap test if you were exposed to HPV in the past.
Do abnormal cell changes cause symptoms?
The cell changes themselves don't cause symptoms. HPV, which causes most abnormal Pap tests, usually doesn't cause symptoms either.
If a different sexually transmitted infection is the cause of your abnormal test, you may have symptoms such as:
What will you need to do if you have an abnormal Pap test?
You may need more tests to find out if you have an infection or to find out how severe the cell changes are. For example, you may need:
- Colposcopy, a test to look at the vagina and cervix through a lighted magnifying tool.
- An HPV test. Like a Pap test, an HPV test is done on a sample of cells taken from the cervix.
- Another Pap test in about 6 to 12 months.
A colposcopy is usually done before any treatment is given. During a colposcopy, the doctor also takes a small sample of tissue from the cervix so that it can be looked at under a microscope. This is called a biopsy.
Treatment, if any, will depend on whether your abnormal cell changes are mild, moderate, or severe. In moderate to severe cases, you may have treatment to destroy or remove the abnormal cells.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about abnormal Pap tests: