What Abnormal Pap Test Results Mean for Your Health

Aug 3 • 2015

Having a Pap test on a regular basis is important for women’s preventive health because it is the best way to detect precancerous conditions or any small, hidden tumors that could become cervical cancer. When the test is performed, a sample of cells are taken from the cervix or vagina to look for any changes or abnormalities. Women should begin getting a Pap test at age 21 and have a routine screening every three to five years until they are 65. Speak to your doctor to determine how often you should be tested based on your medical history.

An abnormal Pap test is often caused by types of HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that has been linked to cervical cancer. It can also be caused by other kinds of infections from yeast or bacteria, which can be treated with medication. For older women, menopause can even cause cell changes that are detected by a Pap test and are simply the result of aging.

If your Pap test comes back with abnormal results, you may need to have additional tests in order to determine whether you have an infection or to see how severe the changes in your cells are. There are three main options for follow-up tests:

  • HPV test: similar to a Pap test, it is done on a sample of cells that are taken from the cervix
  • Colposcopy: this test uses a lighted magnifying tool to look at the vagina and cervix; the doctor will also take a biopsy of the cervix
  • Another Pap test in six months to one year

If your doctor chooses to recommend treatment, it will depend on the results of these follow-up tests. The cell changes will be labeled as mild, moderate, or severe. This label will help your doctor share options for the best course of action.

Your doctor can help answer any questions you may have about what to expect from a Pap test, how often you should be getting tested, and how to interpret your results.