Abnormal Pap Smears and HPV

Abnormal Pap Smears and HPV

When your test result says abnormal, it does not necessarily mean that you have or will have cancer!
A pap smear is a relatively simple procedure typically done at a routine exam that screens for abnormal cellular changes in a woman’s cervix. A pap smear provides an excellent way to prevent cervical cancer by discovering mild abnormalities long before they become cancer.
The most common cause of an abnormal pap smear is a virus called the human papilloma virus or HPV.

Besides pre-cancerous or cancerous changes, an abnormal pap test can also show things like:

  • HPV
  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Atrophy or dryness due to lack of estrogen
  • Other cellular abnormalities not from HPV

HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical dysplasia (precancer) and rarely, cancer in the cervix. You have a higher chance of getting HPV and abnormal pap test results if you have multiple sexual partners and have unprotected sex, if you have not had an HPV vaccine, if your immune system is impaired, if you smoke and if your diet is unhealthy. The good news is that the HPV vaccine is now offered to all children (boys and girls) and this has significantly reduced the rates of cervical cancer while also protecting against HPV related anal and throat cancers!

Most causes of abnormal pap smear results will either resolve on their own or are easily treated. Rarely there are women who can develop cervical cancer- this is why women between the ages of 21-65 need to be checked regularly.

Overall, an abnormal pap smear is what it is- not normal. However, your doctor can advise you on your next course of action. The most important thing is to keep your follow up appointments so that whatever you have (hopefully) never develops into something serious.