When the results from your latest Pap smear come back “abnormal,” it is natural to feel upset. An abnormal Pap means your gynecologist found unusually shaped cells in your cervix instead of those that are flat and thin. However, it often does not indicate cervical cancer. Learn more about abnormal Pap smears here, including what follow-up visits entail. 

What Does It Mean If My Pap Test Is Abnormal? 

Abnormal Paps are common gynecological issues. Unusual test results can occur for a variety of reasons, including bacterial and yeast infections, testing errors, and sexually transmitted diseases. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is among the most frequent abnormal Pap causes, with some strains causing dysplasia, or precancerous cervical changes. HPV is one of the most common STDS, and typically does not include symptoms, though some varieties cause genital warts. 


Unusual test results often detect atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS), which are considered mildly abnormal and do not mean you have precancerous cells. Squamous intraepithelial lesion cells can be precancerous, and come in low- and high-grade forms. Low-grade lesion cells mean precancerous cells probably will not turn cancerous, while high-grade cells increase the risk for cervical cancer. Squamous cell cancer or adenocarcinoma cells have the highest cancer risk. 

What Happens During Follow-Up Testing?

Should your test come back abnormal, the gynecologist will order more intensive follow-up testing, such as a colposcopy. The procedure takes a closer look at your cervix using a colposcope, or type of magnifying tool with a bright light. Take an over-the-counter painkiller to prepare for the short procedure, as it can cause mild cramping. Do not use tampons, douches, or vaginal creams before the test since they can cause temporary cellular changes that affect the results. 

If the colposcopy detects abnormal cells, the gynecologist takes a biopsy, or cervical tissue sample, to determine if precancerous or cancerous cells are present. If they are, you will undergo a cold knife biopsy or LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) to remove abnormal cells from your cervix. You’ll receive local anesthesia to numb the area; expect to be monitored for several hours before being discharged. 

Vaginal bleeding for up to a week is normal after either procedure. Avoid using douches, tampons, or similar products to reduce the risk of false test results. 

Schedule Pap smears or follow-up tests with Augusta Health Care For Women, the OB-GYN center serving Fishersville and all of Augusta, Rockbridge, and Rockingham counties in Virginia. The women’s health center provides a full suite of reproductive services, including routine screenings and aftercare. Call (540) 213-7750 today to make an appointment or visit the gynecologists online for more information.