What Does It Mean if My Pap Smear Is Abnormal?

Finding out that you have an abnormal Pap smear, or Pap test, can send your mind racing toward a million worst-case scenarios. Before jumping to conclusions, remember that having an abnormal Pap smear simply means that some of the cells from your cervix don’t look normal. 

A Pap smear doesn’t diagnose cancer, so on its own, an abnormal Pap smear doesn’t mean that you have cancer.

Your next steps and need for treatment depend on the results of additional diagnostic tests your gynecologist orders to investigate the cause of your abnormal results.

In most cases, a Pap smear helps to prevent cancer rather than identify it. Detecting abnormal cells gives us the chance to treat the abnormal cells before they progress to cancer.

You’ll feel more comfortable navigating the results of an abnormal Pap smear when you’re working with a trusted medical professional. Our OB/GYNs at The Association for Women’s Health Care provide expert Pap smear services. 

Our professional and empathetic team has the expertise necessary to determine an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan for your results. 

Our staff works to help you understand what your abnormal Pap results mean and the impact of your condition on your reproductive health and overall well-being. 

Understanding Pap smears

A Pap smear is a routine gynecological test in which we scrape cells from your cervix and vagina. The cervix connects the uterus, or womb, to the vagina, or birth canal. We preserve the collected cells and examine them under a microscope for abnormalities. 

A Pap smear is part of your routine gynecological exam. It’s an important preventive tool in reducing your risk of cervical cancer. This type of cancer is the most treatable when we identify it  early. Early diagnosis and treatment give you the best chance of long-term success.

Abnormal results

The main reason for an abnormal Pap smear result is the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease. 

Of the more than 200 types of HPV, about 40 types are spread through direct sexual contact with someone who has the virus. Most cases of HPV disappear on their own.

But when you’re infected with some forms of HPV, they can remain and cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. About 93% of all cervical cancers have traces of HPV. 

An HPV infection can change cells. These abnormal cells progress toward cancer slowly and usually without symptoms at the start, making it difficult to know that you’re infected.

But the slow progress of HPV-related cancers allows us time to identify cell abnormalities and treat them before they become cancerous.

Other causes of abnormal Pap smear results include inflammation, infection, trichomoniasis, or herpes.

Next steps after abnormal results

The steps you take after an abnormal Pap smear depend on your results and your gynecologist’s interpretation of your risk for cervical cancer. We may recommend one or more of the following next steps:


During a colposcopy, we use a special lighted magnifying tool to examine your vulva, cervix, and vagina. The instrument allows us to assess potential problems that aren’t visible to the naked eye. 

HPV test

We can perform an HPV test on the same cells used for the Pap smear or new cells that we collect from your cervix in a procedure similar to a Pap smear.

Repeat Pap smear

We may advise you to have another Pap smear within six months to a year to examine the progress of any changes in the abnormal cells.

Cervical biopsy

A cervical biopsy involves removing a small section of tissue from your cervix for the examination of precancerous cells under a microscope. 

Endocervical curettage

Endocervical curettage involves using a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette to scrape a sample of mucous membrane from your cervical canal for further examination.

LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) 

LEEP is a procedure that involves using a small heated wire to remove precancerous cells and other tissue from the cervix.

Having regular Pap smears is key to identifying cervical cancer early, when treatment is easiest and most effective. Don’t ignore the importance of this test. Contact our Chicago or Northbrook, Illinois, office today to arrange an appointment.

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