An abnormal Pap smear result: What this means for you

1. Introduction

Page last updated: 29 October 2016 (this page is generated automatically and reflects updates to other content within the website)

1. If you are feeling worried

Many women feel anxious or worried when they have been told that their Pap smear result is abnormal.

It is important to remember that almost all abnormal Pap smear results are not due to cancer.

Not all problems need treatment and those that do can be treated quite easily and very successfully.

You need to discuss your results and the need for further tests or treatment with your doctor, nurse or health worker. We hope that this booklet will answer some of the questions you may have and will help you when discussing your options.

2. About Pap smears

The Pap smear checks for changes in the cells of the cervix (neck of the womb) at the top of the vagina. It is a screening test to find early warning signs that cancer might develop in the future. If abnormal changes are found at screening, further tests may be done to see if treatment is needed.

3. What’s new about Pap smear results?

In 2005, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released new guidelines for the management and treatment of women with no symptoms who have an abnormal Pap smear result.

This booklet is derived from the NHMRC guidelines and has been issued by the National Cervical Screening Program.

The guidelines are based on the latest evidence about cervical cancer, abnormal Pap smears and their relationship to the human papilloma virus (HPV).

Key facts:
  • HPV is a virus.
  • Almost all abnormal Pap smear results are caused by HPV.
  • Anyone who has ever had sex can have HPV - it’s so common that four out of five people will have had HPV at some time in their lives.
  • In most cases, it clears up by itself in one to two years.
  • In rare cases, if left undetected, it can lead to cervical cancer - this usually takes about 10 years.
  • A Pap smear every two years can detect the presence of HPV, which can then be monitored and/or treated to prevent cancer.
This booklet, along with discussion with your doctor, nurse or health worker, will help you understand what your Pap smear result means.

4. Getting your Pap smear results

Your doctor, nurse or health worker will usually receive your Pap smear result within two to four weeks. You should contact your doctor or nurse to find out the result.

About one in every ten Pap smear results will have a comment or indicate some kind of abnormality. Many of these are not serious, and most cell changes in the cervix are not cancer. However, your medical practitioner should discuss any changes with you.

5. What does an abnormal result mean?

An abnormal Pap smear result means that some of the cells of the cervix look different from the normal cells.

Ask your doctor, nurse or health worker to explain exactly what type of abnormality has been detected or is suspected on your Pap smear.

The table in Appendix 2 explains the technical terms used to describe abnormal Pap smear results and gives you a summary of the recommended management.