My Pap Smear Is Abnormal — Now What?

Apr 12, 2023

Learning that the results from your Pap smear showed abnormal cell growth can seem pretty scary. Here, we help you understand what this test result means and explain your next steps.

You likely know that you should periodically get a Pap smear — a gynecological screening that checks your cervix for unusual cell growth. Getting this testing done on the timeline your doctor recommends (every 3-5 years, for most women) means catching any potentially cancerous cell growth before it poses a serious risk to your overall health.

In other words, routine Pap smears are a critical tool to prevent fatal cervical cancer. In fact, this testing is now so commonplace that most women don’t give it a second thought.

At least, that’s the case until the results come back as “unclear” or “abnormal,” meaning the testing may have found something. If you get a call and learn your Pap smear is abnormal, you might feel scared or unsure of what to do next. 

We want to help. At Burlington OBGYN Associates in Burlington, Massachusetts, our all-female team of doctors and nurse practitioners doesn’t just offer Pap smears. We also help you navigate the results. 

What an abnormal result means

If your Pap smear returns abnormal results, it means the sampling of cells we took shows some unusual changes. 

Those changes could indicate the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases your risk for cervical cancer. In extreme cases, they could show that you have cervical cancer — but this shouldn’t happen if you’re getting Pap tests regularly. 

When you have an abnormal Pap smear, we grade the results from mild to severe. That determines what happens next. 

Next steps with mild abnormality

If you have mild cellular changes, it could mean you have an HPV infection. As a result, we might order an HPV test or wait a few months and perform another Pap test. This gives your body time to heal the infection. If your follow-up Pap smear doesn’t show any additional abnormal cell growth, you can relax.

Moving forward, we may recommend more frequent Pap smears to ensure that we catch any further unusual cell growth early. 

Next steps with moderate to severe abnormal cell changes

If we see a significant amount of cellular change in your Pap smear results, we usually recommend a diagnostic procedure known as a colposcopy. We use a speculum just like during a Pap smear, and then we use a lighted magnifying device (the colposcope) to examine the tissue in your cervix. 

We perform your colposcopy right here at our office, and it should take only 5-10 minutes. 

If we find any abnormal cell growth during your colposcopy, we perform a cervical biopsy. This means we take a small tissue sample so we can send it to the lab for further analysis. Your cervical biopsy is minimally invasive and doesn’t require any downtime afterward. We can offer local anesthetic to keep you comfortable, too. 

With a colposcopy and potentially a cervical biopsy, we can figure out what’s going on in your cervix. This way, we can tailor treatment to help you protect your cervical health and your overall health.

We pride ourselves on exceptional, compassionate care. If you’ve had an abnormal Pap smear — or you’re due for your next Pap — call our office or book your appointment online today.