Ask Sofia: What Does a Normal/Abnormal Pap Smear Mean?
You may have heard that you likely don’t need an annual Pap smear: The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force now recommends one every three to five years, based on your age and previous history. And if your Pap smear, which checks for changes in the cells of your cervix, is normal, you probably won’t give it much consideration until the next time. But what if the results are abnormal? First of all, an abnormal Pap smear does not mean that you have cervical cancer. It tests for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, allowing for early treatment so the cells don’t become cancerous. Early intervention is the first step in stopping cervical cancer, since treatment can prevent most cases from developing.
In addition, an abnormal result can also indicate that there’s an infection or inflammation. In fact, the main cause of abnormal Pap smears is infection related to HPV or the human papillomavirus, which can be linked to cancers and genital warts. If you receive an abnormal result, you may need further testing. A colposcopy, for instance, allows your doctor to look at your cervix in more detail through a magnifying device. Most of the time, the unhealthy cells go away on their own, but if there are pre-cancerous cells, a regular Pap smear will ensure you get the treatment you need. Talk to your doctor about your results or any questions you have regarding Pap smears.