If you’ve recently had a pap smear and just received the results, you may be worried. It’s natural to be concerned if you’ve received a notice that your test came back as an abnormal pap smear. Naturally you want to know if this means you have cervical cancer. While pap smears are conducted as preventative measures to detect human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer, there are many reasons for abnormal pap smear results that don’t automatically mean you have cervical cancer.
There are several common reasons for abnormal pap smears. Most of these are not serious. While you need to follow your doctor’s instructions for further testing to make sure you do not have cervical cancer (13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and approximately 3,000 women die of cervical cancer each year), most abnormal pap smear tests do not result in a diagnosis of cervical cancer.
First of all, there is a high possibility that your abnormal pap smear will be determined to be what is called false positive, meaning the technician who looked at the cervical cells on the slide were not sure if the cells were cancerous or not, and they requested a second test because they wanted to be sure. This happens because a medical technician would rather make sure you do not have cancer than let an unclear sample pass as being cancer-free. After your second pap smear, you may find out you do not have any concerning cervical cells at all.
A second common cause of abnormal cervical cells is an infection of the cervix or vagina. This can be an HPV infection or some other kind of infection. Usually the infection can be treated and you will simply need to engage in follow-up tests to make sure the cells have not become cancerous. In most cases, the infection clears up with the treatment prescribed and your next pap smear will show normal cervical cells.
HPV infections of specific varieties (there are over 40 different types of the human papillomavirus, but only a few cause cancer) may need more serious treatments and may dictate more careful monitoring, since these specific types of HPV can result in cancer. Your doctor will check to see how much the cells have changed.
The most serious reason for an abnormal pap smear is the identification of cancerous cervical cells. If this is detected (through curettage or biopsy), you will be treated for cancer and monitored closely.
However, since it is impossible to tell from a first time abnormal pap smear if your condition is serious or completely benign, you should not panic if you receive such a notification. Abnormal pap smears are not always indicative of the presence of cancer, so wait until your doctor has done follow-up tests before you become too concerned.