What You Need to Know About Abnormal Pap Smears

woman doctor visitDisclaimer: Abnormal doesn’t necessarily mean “cancerous.”

Getting your first Pap smear can be a bit nerve-racking, and it can be even more unsettling after receiving a call from your gyno explaining that your recent Pap smear came back abnormal.

Initially, “abnormal” can sound ominous.  When you hear the word abnormal associated with HPV and cervical cancer, there’s no doubt that your mind will think the worst.

First things first: take a deep breath and relax.  Abnormal does not necessarily mean cancerous.

Why do I need a Pap smear?

The purpose of a Papanicolaou test, also known as a Pap smear, usually performed with a pelvic exam, is to test for any changes in cervical cells that could be precancerous.  Women typically have their first Pap smear around the age of 21.  In women over the age of 30, the Pap test may be combined with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer.

So, what causes an abnormal Pap smear?

When reviewing your results, it could be a possibility that your doctor detected a certain amount of cervical dysplasia, which are abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix that can range from mild to severe.

Abnormal Pap smear test results can mean a few things:

  • There’s inflammation in your cervix that is not worrisome
  • You may have an HPV infection
  • Your doctor detected potentially precancerous cells

Some risk factors that can cause abnormal Pap smear include:

  • A Pap smear that identified precancerous cells
  • A diagnosis of cervical cancer1
  • An HPV infection
  • A weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth

So, what happens after an abnormal Pap smear?

When your doctor detects precancerous cells, the prognosis and survival rate for cervical cancer is very high with follow up testing and treatment.  If your Pap smear is abnormal, your doctor may perform additional HPV testing or a colposcopy.  Your doctor might also recommend follow-up Pap smear testing at least every six months to a year.


Pap Smears at Synergy Immediate Care in Tysons, VA

At Synergy Immediate Care, we stress the importance of visiting a medical provider for an annual exam and regular screenings.  Should your results come back abnormal, we’ll be sure to schedule you for follow up appointments and discuss preventative procedures and get your health in control. We have both primary care providers and a gynecologist (women’s health specialist). For more information about our gynecology program, please call to speak with one of our medical staff at 703-942-5331.

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