Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Indicate Cancer?

dreamstime_s_38286734What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear or Pap test collects cells from your cervix for analysis. This test looks for abnormalities, including cervical cancer. A Pap smear may be performed during a well woman exam with your gynecologist. Results from the test are typically available within 14 days of your visit to Urogynecology Center of San Francisco (UGSF).

Pap smears are an important part of women’s healthcare and should not be missed, as they are the leading method of early detection for cervical cancer. Pap smears also detect the presence of human papilloma virus (HPV).

What if my Pap smear results are abnormal?

If a Pap smear returns with abnormal results, this does not mean you should make assumptions or worry greatly about your health and well-being. Abnormal Pap test results can indicate various medical conditions, cervical cancer being just one of them.

Abnormal Pap smear results are often due to HPV. Think of HPV as the common cold of sex. HPV is very common in American women and men and is especially prevalent in teenagers and people in their early 20s. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and is spread from person to person through genital contact. HPV can be contracted even when using a condom since a condom does not cover the entire genital area. Both men and women can be protected against HPV by receiving the HPV vaccine Gardasil.

Certain types of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer, which is why going for your annual exam at UGSF is essential in testing for abnormal Pap smear results. Depending on the type of HPV strain, determines which category of follow up care.

  1. Negative for HPV- can mean no pap smear for 5 years. This doesn’t mean you get to skip your pelvic exams, which can screen for uterine, cervical or ovarian masses.
  2. High risk HPV- certain types require us to bring you back in 3 months, even if the pap smear is normal for more follow up to make sure you do not start having early signs of cervical cancer.
  3. Lower risk HPV- we recommend yearly pap smears for 3 years, then retest for HPV.

A final cause for an abnormal Pap smear is an infection, which can be caused by yeast or bacteria.

In the event that your Pap test results require additional screening, your provider will determine what testing is needed and if treatment is recommended. Should you experience unusual symptoms such as vaginal discharge, burning or itching, painful urination, pain or discomfort during intercourse, and any type of unusual sore or bump around your genitals, please contact your provider in order to discuss these symptoms and schedule an appointment.