What is an abnormal Pap test?
Pap test, or Pap smear, is part of a woman's routine
physical exam. It is the best way to prevent
cervical cancer, because it can find cells on your
cervix that could turn into cancer. The cervix is the
lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.
doctor says that your Pap test was "abnormal," it means that the test found
some cells on your cervix that do not look normal. It does not mean that you
have cancer. In fact, the chances that you have cancer are very small.
What causes an abnormal Pap test?
Most of the
time, abnormal cell changes on the cervix are caused by certain types of
human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a
sexually transmitted infection. Usually these cell
changes go away on their own. But certain types of HPV have been linked to
cervical cancer. That’s why it’s important for women to have regular Pap tests.
It usually takes many years for cell changes in the cervix to turn into cancer.
Sometimes cell changes in the cervix are due to other types of infection,
such as infections caused by bacteria or yeast. These types of cell changes 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?
High-risk sex raises your chances of getting HPV and having an abnormal
Pap test. High-risk sex includes having sex without condoms and having more
than one sex partner (or having a sex partner who has other partners).
HPV can stay in your body for many years without your knowing it. So even
if you now have just one partner and practice safe sex, you could still have an
abnormal Pap test if you were exposed to HPV in the past.
or having an
impaired immune system also may raise your chances of
having cell changes in your cervix.
Do abnormal cell changes cause symptoms?
changes themselves don't cause symptoms. HPV, which causes most abnormal Pap
tests, usually doesn't cause symptoms either. This is why regular Pap tests are
If a different sexually transmitted infection is the cause of your abnormal Pap test, you may have symptoms,
- A discharge from the vagina that isn't normal
for you, such as a change in the amount, color, odor, or texture.
- Pain, burning, or itching in your pelvic or genital area when you
urinate or have sex.
- Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts on
or around your genitals.
What will you need to do if you have an abnormal Pap test?