Your doctor has called to tell you that your Pap test came back abnormal. The next step is for you to schedule an appointment to have a colposcopy done, but you’re probably wondering what an abnormal Pap test means for you in the meantime. Does an abnormal Pap test mean that you have cervical cancer? Here are some of the things all women should know about an abnormal test result.
Does an Abnormal Pap Test Mean You Have Cancer?
Keep in mind that an abnormal Pap test does not always indicate cancer. In fact, it most often does not. What an abnormal Pap test usually means is that there have been changes in the cervical cells and, in some cases, they may be precancerous. These changes are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV, which is responsible for cancer. However, as long as you are having Pap tests done once every year or two years, precancerous cervical cells often are diagnosed and can be treated before they develop into cancer.
Also keep in mind that there is a chance that your abnormal Pap test was a false positive. If your doctor does a colposcopy and finds that there are no precancerous cervical cell changes, it often means that your Pap test was not accurate. Keep in mind that many factors can lead to inaccurate test results, including having sex, douching or wearing tampons within 48 hours of the test. Note that if your Pap test is a false positive, your doctor will let you know this.
What Happens if Your Pap Test is Abnormal?
The first thing that you will want to do is schedule to have a colposcopy exam done. A colposcope is like a large microscope that is used to view the cervix. To read more about the colposcopy procedure, visit “Does a Colposcopy Examination Hurt?” If your doctor notices any abnormal cells during the colposcopy exam, he or she will generally take a biopsy to make sure that it is not cancer.
Precancerous cervical cell changes can be scary, but they often go away on their own – usually within two years. As long as the cell changes are not significant, your doctor will generally have you come back again in another three to six months to do a follow-up Pap test. At this point, the changes, which are caused by the Human Papillomavirus, may have gone away on their own. If the problem seems to be progressing, your doctor might recommend treatment at this point.
While it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions for treatment or follow-up, the most important thing to keep in mind is that an abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. Though you likely have precancerous cervical changes, there is no reason to worry unless your doctor takes a biopsy that comes back positive for cancer.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Pap Test.”