Abnormal Pap Test Information

During a Pap test, the cells on the surface of your cervix are checked to see if they look normal, abnormal, or if they show signs of having been altered by a certain type of virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Cervical cells that have been affected by HPV are called dysplasia. Dysplasia is not cancer, but describes abnormal cells found on the surface of the cervix. Depending on the degree of dysplasia, some of the cells may be considered pre-cancerous and may turn into cancer over time if follow up with a caregiver is delayed.

WHAT DOES AN ABNORMAL PAP TEST MEAN?

Having an abnormal pap test does not mean that you have cancer. However, certain types of abnormal pap tests can be a sign that a person is at a higher risk of developing cancer. Your caregiver will want to do other tests to find out more about the abnormal cells. Your abnormal Pap test results could show:

  • Small and uncertain changes that should be carefully watched.  

  • Cervical dysplasia that has caused mild changes and can be followed over time.  

  • Cervical dysplasia that is more severe and needs to be followed and treated to ensure the problem goes away.

  • Cancer.  

When severe cervical dysplasia is found and treated early, it rarely will grow into cancer.

WHAT WILL BE DONE ABOUT MY ABNORMAL PAP TEST?

  • A colposcopy may be needed. This is a procedure where your cervix is examined using light and magnification.

  • A small tissue sample of your cervix (biopsy) may need to be removed and then examined. This is often performed if there are areas that appear infected.

  • A sample of cells from the cervical canal may be removed with either a small brush or scraping instrument (curette).

Based on the results of the procedures above, some caregivers may recommend either cryotherapy of the cervix or a surgical LEEP where a portion of the cervix is removed. LEEP is short for "loop electrical excisional procedure." Rarely, a caregiver may recommend a cone biopsy. This is a procedure where a small, cone-shaped sample of your cervix is taken out. The part that is taken out is the area where the abnormal cells are.  

WHAT IF I HAVE A DYSPLASIA OR A CANCER?

You may be referred to a specialist. Radiation may also be a treatment for more advanced cancer. Having a hysterectomy is the last treatment option for dysplasia, but it is a more common treatment for someone with cancer. All treatment options will be discussed with you by your caregiver.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AFTER BEING TREATED?

If you have had an abnormal pap test, you should continue to have regular pap tests and check-ups as directed by your caregiver. Your cervical problem will be carefully watched so it does not get worse. Also, your caregiver can watch for, and treat, any new problems that may come up.