There are two possible results from a pap smear test: normal or abnormal.
If the results are abnormal, then here are the next steps.
1. Don’t panic
An abnormal pap test can be the result of many different factors. If your pap test result is abnormal, it doesn’t always mean that you have a pre-cancerous cells or cancer. In fact, most women who have an abnormal result don’t have cervical cancer.
Most often, an abnormal test result means there have been changes to the cells of the cervix. These changes are usually caused by a virus known as the human papilloma virus (HPV).
The Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause changes to the cells of the cervix. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists abnormal changes to the cells can range from mild to severe and are classified as follows:
- Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASC-US) – Changes in the cervical cells have been found. These changes are almost always a sign of an HPV infection. ASC-US is the most common abnormal pap test result.
- Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (LSIL) – The cervical cells show changes that are mildly abnormal. LSIL is usually caused by an HPV infection and often goes away on its own.
- High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL) – A slightly more serious change in the cervical cells than LSIL. HSIL is more likely to be associated with precancer and cancer.
- Atypical squamous cells, cannot exclude HSIL (ASC-H) – Changes in the cervical cells have been found that raise concern for the presence of HSIL.
- Atypical glandular cells (AGC) – Glandular cells are a type of cell that form the inner canal of the cervix. An AGC result means that changes have been found in glandular cells that raise concern for the presence of precancer or cancer.
2. Make an appointment to see your doctor
After receiving your test results it is important to make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to tell you what category (listed above) that your results fall under.
Some abnormal cells will return to normal on their own. But other abnormal cells can develop into cervical cancer if they are left untreated. It’s important for your doctor to determine which type of cells you have so that you can be followed up appropriately.
3. Schedule a follow up
Using your pap smear result your doctor will take into account your age, medical history, sexual history and the results of any previous pap tests to determine what kind of follow up you need. That might be one or more of the following:
- A repeat pap smear test in 6 months or 12 months
- An HPV test (if you didn’t already have a pap and HPV co-test)
- A colposcopy and a biopsy (a procedure that lets the doctor view the cervix in greater detail and take a sample of cells)
Receiving an abnormal test result can be scary but your doctor will guide you through the entire process.
Use your appointment as a chance to ask questions, get more information or ask for clarification. We understand this can be a stressful situation for some women so feel free to bring along a family member or trusted friend. We’ll do our best to make you feel as comfortable as possible and explain each step along the way.
- Canadian Cancer Society. Pap Test.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Test Results. January 2016.