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Abnormal Pap Smear

Unusual changes in the cells that line the cervix can cause an abnormal Pap smear.  

Also called a Pap test, a Pap smear is used to screen for cervical cancer. It involves collecting a small amount of cells from the cervix after opening the walls of the vagina using a tool called a speculum. A Pap smear is an important part of a woman’s preventive care routine and is often performed in conjunction with a pelvic exam. Abnormal Pap smear results indicate unusual cellular changes in the cervix.

To help ensure the most accurate results from a Pap smear, avoid the following two days prior to your test:

  • Using tampons
  • Having sexual intercourse
  • Using vaginal creams, sprays or powders

Causes

An abnormal Pap smear doesn’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. In most cases, an abnormal Pap test is a result of:

  • A human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • A sexually transmitted infection (STI or STD), such as herpes or trichomoniasis
  • A bacterial or yeast infection
  • Inflammation in the pelvic area
  • Normal cellular changes that occur with age
  • Pre-cancerous changes (cervical dysplasia) that often go away on their own

Symptoms

Some conditions that cause abnormal Pap smear results can produce uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

  • Pain, itching or burning around the genital area during sexual intercourse or urination
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Rashes, sores, warts or bumps around the genital area
  • Vaginal soreness and pain

Be sure to promptly speak with a physician if you notice these or any other unusual symptoms. Because such symptoms may signal an STI, it’s important to pause sexual activity until you have received a diagnosis and proper treatment.

Diagnosis

If a physician suspects that cervical cancer may be to blame for an abnormal Pap smear, he or she may perform a colposcopy to view the cervix using a lighted magnifying lens. If any abnormalities are discovered, a biopsy may then be performed to test a small piece of tissue for cancerous cells. Tests to screen for HPV and other STIs may also be recommended, along with one or more follow-up Pap smears.

Treatments

An abnormal Pap smear may not necessitate any further tests or treatment. If it does, world-class gynecological care is available at Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute. Our multidisciplinary team excels in:

  • Sexually transmitted infection treatment and management
  • Vaginal infection treatment
  • Cervical cancer treatment and preventive strategies