What an Abnormal Pap Smear Can Mean

A wooden or plastic scraper is used to remove cell samples from the cervix which are then laboratory tested to screen for any abnormalities. One of the more nerve wracking things to hear after a visit with your OBGYN is that you had an abnormal pap smear.

An abnormal pap smear always requires investigation, however, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. It doesn’t always or even usually mean cancer. However, it could mean you are experiencing an infection. In some cases, though, an abnormal pap smear does indicate the early stages of cancer or you are diagnosed with HPV which puts you at a much higher risk of developing cancer down the line. The cancer that is usually being tested for, and is caused by HPV, is cervical cancer. Here is what you need to know about the disease.

Cervical cancer

One of the primary conditions that a pap smear tests for is cervical cancer. Cervical cancer, while not as frequently diagnosed as some others, is serious and needs to be treated early to increase the likelihood of a good outcome. It’s also one of the cancers that tend to manifest in younger (teens to mid-30s) women, though it can certainly occur at any age.

Cells in the cervix begin to grow abnormally rapidly. There is usually a precancerous phase of several years before the cells actually become cancerous. Ideally, the precancerous cells would be caught by a pap smear so that medical intervention could take place as early as possible. Some women with precancerous cells actually won’t develop cervical cancer, regardless of whether or not treatment occurs. This should not be assumed as the norm.

Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. There are various types of HPV. The kind that causes cervical cancer is transmitted through sexual intercourse with someone who has HPV. Your partner doesn’t need to have symptoms of HPV to transmit it. Many people carry the virus and they don’t even know it because it doesn’t present in any way. Not everyone who has HPV will develop cervical cancer as some people’s immune systems are able to suppress the virus.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

The trouble with cervical cancer is that it often doesn’t produce symptoms of note in the early stages. That’s why a pap smear is the relied upon way to detect it before it begins to spread and affect the surrounding tissue which produces physical symptoms. One telltale symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. There is longer and heavier bleeding between periods or excessive bleeding after sex following menopause. You may also experience pain during sex. Many women also experience an unusual discharge from the vagina. Because these symptoms can seem somewhat general and can be an indicator of multiple conditions, they always must be reported to your OBGYN and investigated. These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer, but if you do early detection is key to your treatment.

Don’t skip your annual exam

An annual well-woman exam is your initial line of defense against potentially life-threatening conditions. Because many of illnesses that could put you in danger often show little to no signs or symptoms in the early stages, only preventative detection can give you any indication you might have something that requires medical attention. Your annual exam is when you would typically have your pap smear performed to check for conditions like cervical cancer. If you don’t go every year, you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of allowing an illness to develop to the point where it’s much more difficult to treat once it is discovered because the symptoms cannot be ignored. Keep up with your annual well-woman exams and always tell your OBGYN about new and unusual symptoms you may be experiencing.


When talking about a woman’s health, one of the most important things she can do is schedule an annual exam with her OBGYN. Depending on your age, it’s critical that you regularly get a pap smear so that you can be sure that you aren’t dealing with the early, silent period of a potentially life-threatening illness. Abnormal pap smears can be alarming. That’s why you need to follow up on them and make sure that you aren’t dealing with a condition like cervical cancer. You need to see an OBGYN that you can trust to be thorough and deliver expert care. Book an appointment online with us today. The team at The Association for Women’s Health Care is dedicated to providing you with the professional services you need to ensure that you stay on top of your health.

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