An Abnormal PAP Result: Do I Have Cervical Cancer?

Many women who take PAP tests and get abnormal results immediately start to fear that they have cervical cancer. A positive/abnormal PAP result does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer. It only means that the doctor has found some abnormal or unusual cells in the cervix, which may or may not be cervical cancer.

In today’s article, we’ll focus on answering questions you might have and give you necessary information about abnormal PAP results.

What Do Abnormal PAP Results Usually Mean?

As you probably already know, most PAP tests are the same and are designed for one thing only – to test if you have any abnormal cells in your cervix. In other words, PAP tests look for precancers or cancers in the cervix. 

In most cases, abnormal PAP test results indicate the existence of abnormal cells. The leading cause behind these abnormal cells is usually the human papilloma virus or HPV – the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection that’s also linked to cervical cancer. While this is certainly reason for further tests, it is important to note that the majority of abnormal PAP results do not necessarily indicate cancer.

Naturally, other health issues can lead to these changes and cervical cancer, but the main cause is primarily the human papilloma virus.

So, what’s next after you get abnormal PAP results? Whatever the case, your doctor will have to review the test results and give you an answer that largely depends on the type of abnormal cells.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common types of abnormal cervical cells:

  • Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS)

ASCUS arises when the squamous cells grow on the surface of an otherwise healthy cervix. If that’s the case with you, the doctor will do a test to see if you have HPV. If you don’t, then the results of the PAP test are of no concern. In more than 90% of cases it’s only a mild infection.

  • Atypical glandular cells

Atypical glandular cells create mucus and tend to grow in the uterus or on the opening of the cervix. These cells can still be of no concern, and only if they look abnormal enough, will the doctor do more tests to see if you have cancer.

  • Squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL)

Unlike ASCUS, SIL can be pre-cancerous. If they are low-grade, then you are unlikely to get cervical cancer for many years. But if they are high-grade, then the cells could become cancerous much sooner.

  • Squamous cell cancer (adenocarcinoma cells)

Adenocarcinoma cells in the cervix are extremely abnormal cells that usually mean you have cervical cancer.

What’s Next For An Abnormal PAP Result?

If there is a chance you might have cancer, your doctor will do two tests:

  • Colposcopy – similar to the PAP test, but this time, a colposcope is used to inspect the cervix. The doctor swabs the cervix with a liquid solution that highlights suspicious areas so the doctor can see them better through the colposcope.
  • Biopsy – if the areas the doctor sees through the colposcope look suspicious enough, he or she will take a sample and send it to the lab to determine if you have cancer.

At Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology, we treat cervical cancer every day, and use the latest technology available to help our patients get back on the road to recovery. Our treatment options are non-invasive and effective.

More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us at 850-610-3743, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion, so you too can experience the difference.