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Obstetrics and Gynecology

You had an Abnormal Pap Smear, Now What?


Katharine White, MD

You recently went to the doctor and got a call afterwards saying that you had an abnormal pap smear. Now what? Don't panic.

Here's some useful information about what to do when you have had an abnormal pap smear.

"Finding out that your Pap smear results have come back 'abnormal' can cause a lot of anxiety for patients," explains OBGYN Katharine White, MD, "but we don't want patients to panic, because this does not automatically mean that you have cancer."

Most abnormal Pap smear results are not caused by cancer, but instead are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted infection. These abnormal cells will usually go away on their own, but they're more likely to stick around in women who smoke or who have an impaired immune system. Other less common causes of abnormal Pap smear results include other sexually transmitted infections such as herpes or trichomonas, vaginal infections caused by bacteria or yeast, or being post-menopausal.

So, now what? First, talk with your doctor about next steps.

You may need more tests to determine what exactly is causing cells to be abnormal. One test you may need is a colposcopy which looks at the cervix through a microscope. During the colposcopy, you will probably have a biopsy, where a small sample of the cervix is removed to be tested further. Or you may just need to be monitored and have another pap smear in a few months.

"We encourage women to schedule their regular pap smears so that they may be proactive about their health," adds Dr. White. In cases when cancer is discovered, the survival rate for cervical cancer is very high when it is detected early. "The most important thing to know about an abnormal pap test is that as long as you follow up with all of the recommended testing, you're not likely to develop cancer."

Don't panic about your abnormal Pap smear results, but do be sure to schedule your follow-up appointments and schedule your regular Pap smear tests.

Schedule a Pap smear with one of our providers by visiting BMC.org/obgyn.