Women's Health

What is an Abnormal Pap Smear?

What is an Abnormal Pap Smear?

Key Takeaways

  • Pap smears can help to determine if a woman has cervical cancer.
  • Pap smears that result in abnormalities do not guarantee that a woman has cervical cancer.
  • Certain infections can cause vaginal discharge, pain in the vaginal area, and lumps, blisters, or sores in or around the genitals.

A Pap smears is a test used to detect unwanted or abnormal cells in a woman's cervix. This test helps to identity if a woman has cervical cancer. Abnormal Pap smears do not positively indicate cervical cancer, however, they can detect any changes in the cervix that can be a sign of cervical cancer. Moreover, it is possible that the majority of the cells that have changed in the cervix can reverse back to normal. 

Abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be caused by:

  • Vaginal infections that contain bacteria or yeast
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
  • Hormonal changes in post-menopausal women

One of the popular causes for changes in the cells of the cervix is the HPV infection. The risk of receiving an abnormal Pap smear increases with risky sexual activity, an impaired immune system, and smoking. Daughters of women who took diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy also have an increased risk of developing abnormalities in the cervix.

Other infections that cause cell changes may have symptoms that include:

  • Vaginal discharge that have an abnormal color, odor, and texture.
  • Pain in the vaginal area.
  • Burning sensation in the genital region.
  • Lumps, blisters, or sores in or around the genitals.

If your test results indicate that you have had an abnormal Pap smear, you will have to undergo further testing to determine the causes for these cell transformations. This includes a colposcopy, HPV test, or another Pap test within six months.

Low grade abnormalities in Pap smears do not require further treatment. This is mostly caused by the HPV infection, and may cure itself on its own. If the Pap smear shows a high-grade abnormality, it refers to a persisting HPV infection. HPV, left untreated, may lead to cancer. Doctors may recommend a colposcopy and a biopsy to firmly diagnose this condition. It is possible for women to have glandular abnormalities as the result of a Pap smear. Although abnormal Pap smears do not whole-heartedly mean that cancer cells are present, it should be further investigated.

Some of the common treatment methods used for abnormal Pap tests includes:

  • Wire loop excision
  • Cone biopsy
  • Laser treatment
  • Diathermy