Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean I Have Cancer?

Jul 01, 2023
Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean I Have Cancer?
Pap smears are routine screening tests that detect the earliest signs of cervical cancer, but not all abnormal results mean that you have cancer. Read on to learn more about abnormal Pap smear results.

Receiving the news of an abnormal Pap smear result can be distressing and lead to immediate concerns about the possibility of cancer. Understanding that an abnormal Pap smear does not necessarily mean you have cancer is important. In fact, abnormal results are quite common and often indicate other benign conditions or infections. 

Here’s what you need to know about abnormal Pap smears, their potential causes, and how our Aurora OB/GYN team can guide you with steps to follow after receiving an abnormal result.

Understanding Pap smears

A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test or a Papanicolaou test, is a routine screening procedure performed to detect changes in the cells of the cervix. It primarily identifies early signs of cervical cancer or pre-cancerous conditions. During the test, a small sample of cells is collected from your cervix with a special brush and examined under a microscope.

What does an abnormal result mean?

Because Pap smears are designed to screen for signs of cervical cancer, it’s normal to wonder if an abnormal result means you have cancer. However, an abnormal Pap smear result indicates that certain changes in the cervical cells require further investigation. Pap smears are not diagnostic tools. They are screening tools.

These cellular changes are classified into different categories, such as atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS), low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (LSIL), high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL), and others. These classifications help determine the level of abnormality and guide subsequent diagnostic steps.

Common causes of abnormal Pap smear results

Your Pap smear might be abnormal if you have:

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection and the leading cause of abnormal Pap smear results. Most HPV infections resolve on their own without any long-term consequences, but certain high-risk types of HPV can lead to cervical abnormalities.

Inflammation or Infection

Conditions like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause inflammation in the cervix, leading to abnormal results.

Cervical dysplasia

Abnormal cell growth on the cervix, known as cervical dysplasia, is often detected through Pap smears. It is considered a pre-cancerous condition caused by HPV or other factors.


Hormonal changes during menopause can sometimes result in abnormal Pap smear findings.

What are your next steps after an abnormal result?

Depending on what type of cellular changes were detected in your Pap smear, board-certified OB/GYN Karen Allsup, FACOG, MD, may recommend any of the following:

Repeat Pap smear

In many cases, you may only need a repeat Pap smear to monitor any changes in your cervical cells. Often, the abnormalities may resolve on their own without requiring further intervention.

HPV testing

Depending on the Pap smear results and your age, you may benefit from HPV testing to determine the presence of high-risk HPV strains that could contribute to cervical cell changes.


If the abnormalities persist or are classified as high-grade, a colposcopy may be recommended. This procedure allows for a more detailed examination of the cervix using a special magnifying device. A special solution is applied to your cervix to highlight the areas of concern better. Biopsies may be performed at the same time as a colposcopy. 


If abnormal areas are identified during a colposcopy, a small tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken for further analysis to confirm or rule out the presence of cancerous cells.

Are you dealing with an abnormal Pap smear?

While an abnormal Pap smear can be concerning, remember that it does not automatically mean you have cancer. Many factors can contribute to abnormal results, and further testing is necessary to determine the cause and appropriate course of action. Don’t delay your next steps, though, since many conditions (such as yeast infections) that contribute to abnormal results still require treatment. 

Regular screening, open communication with Dr. Allsup, and timely follow-up are crucial in managing abnormal Pap smear findings. 

Whether you need to schedule your Pap smear or make a plan to discuss an abnormal result, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Call our San Antonio, Texas, office at 210-547-4700 or try our online scheduling tool to book your appointment.