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A woman talks to her doctor about an abnormal pap smear

An abnormal Pap smear can be concerning, although abnormal results do not always indicate cancer (or any other serious condition). Sometimes, cells become abnormal and eventually return to normal on their own. Other times, abnormal cells are the result of a bacterial infection, HPV infection or yeast infection. Only in a small number of cases are abnormal Pap smears indicative of cervical cancer.

If no abnormal cells are present, a Pap smear will come back as “normal.” The presence of abnormal cells can lead to any of the following results:

  • Unsatisfactory – The cells were not able to be properly tested and a new Pap smear needs to be completed.
  • Benign changes – The cells showed minor to moderate inflammation that was likely the result of an infection. A pelvic exam may be necessary to diagnose the infection and determine the best approach to treatment.
  • ASCUS – Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance were found, but these are unlikely to be cancerous. HPV testing may be recommended.
  • ASC-H – High-grade atypical squamous cells were detected, although they are most likely the result of HPV. A colposcopy will likely be recommended.
  • LSIL – Low-grade squamous intraepithelial cell lesions were detected, and HPV is likely the cause. Often, another Pap smear and HPV testing may be necessary in 12 months.
  • HSIL – High-grade intraepithelial lesions were detected, and while the cells are not currently cancerous, treatment is necessary to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer in the future. Further evaluation is necessary.
  • AGC – Atypical glandular cells were detected, and a colposcopy and further testing will likely be recommended.
  • Cancer – Cancerous cells were detected, and prompt treatment is necessary.

In the event that cancer is present, early diagnosis can lead to a wider range of potential treatment options. This can significantly improve a patient’s prognosis. In some cases, fertility-preserving treatment may be possible. Early and accurate detection is key for successful treatment.

Medically reviewed by Robert Wenham, MD, Chair, Gynecologic Oncology Program

At Moffitt Cancer Center, we offer Pap smears and follow-up testing as part of our commitment to early diagnosis and prevention. If you’ve recently received abnormal Pap smear results and have been instructed to pursue additional diagnostic tests, you can call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online to request an appointment with one of Moffitt’s experienced gynecologic oncologists. Our team specializes in diagnosing and treating cervical cancer and can schedule any appropriate tests with or without a physician’s referral. Virtual visit appointments are sometimes available, but usually, an in-person exam and evaluation are necessary.


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