My Pap Was Abnormal - Now What?

My Pap Was Abnormal - Now What?

An abnormal Pap smear result can be a distressing experience for many women. It’s natural to feel worried or anxious about what it means for your health. However, it is important to understand that an abnormal result doesn’t necessarily indicate cancer. In fact, most abnormal Pap smears are caused by minor infections or changes in cervical cells that can be easily treated. Here’s what you need to know and expect after receiving an abnormal Pap smear result.

Understanding Your Results

The first step after receiving an abnormal Pap smear result is to understand what it means. Pap smears are screening tests designed to detect abnormalities in cervical cells, which could indicate conditions like inflammation, infection, or precancerous changes. Your healthcare provider will classify the abnormalities based on the Bethesda system, which categorizes results into different grades of abnormality.

  1. ASC-US (Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance): This is the most common abnormal result, indicating that some cervical cells appear slightly abnormal, but the significance is unclear. It might be due to infection, inflammation, or other non-cancerous factors.
  2. LSIL (Low-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion): LSIL indicates mild abnormalities in cervical cells, often caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Most LSIL cases resolve on their own without treatment.
  3. HSIL (High-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion): HSIL indicates more significant abnormalities that are more likely to progress to cervical cancer if left untreated. Prompt follow-up and treatment are usually recommended for HSIL.

What to Expect Next

  1. Follow-up Testing: Depending on the severity of the abnormality, your healthcare provider may recommend further testing to evaluate the cervical cells more closely. This could include a repeat Pap smear, HPV testing, or colposcopy, where the cervix is examined under magnification.
  2. Colposcopy: If your provider recommends a colposcopy, don’t panic. It’s a simple procedure done in the office, similar to a pelvic exam. During the colposcopy, your doctor will use a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope to examine the cervix more closely and may take a small tissue sample (biopsy) from the cervix for further evaluation.
  3. Biopsy Results: Waiting for biopsy results can be nerve-wracking but many biopsies come back showing only minor abnormalities or inflammation. If more serious abnormalities are found, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you.
  4. Treatment Options: Treatment for abnormal cervical cells depends on the severity of the abnormalities and your overall health. Options may include watchful waiting, cryotherapy (freezing the abnormal cells), LEEP (removing abnormal cells with a thin wire loop with an electrical current), or surgery in rare cases.

Coping Strategies

Receiving an abnormal Pap smear result can be emotionally challenging, so it’s essential to take care of your mental health during this time. Here are some coping strategies:

  • Stay Informed: Educate yourself about your condition and treatment options. Ask your healthcare provider questions and seek reliable information from reputable sources.
  • Seek Support: Share your feelings with trusted friends or family members. You may also find support groups or online communities for women facing similar challenges.
  • Practice Self-Care: Take care of your physical and emotional well-being by eating healthily, getting enough rest, exercising, and engaging in activities you enjoy.
  • Stay Positive: Remember that most abnormal Pap smear results are not cancerous, and many can be easily treated. Focus on the steps you can take to manage your health and stay optimistic about the future.


Receiving an abnormal Pap smear result can be unsettling, but it’s important to remember that this can mean many different things, some of which are benign. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for follow-up testing and treatment, and don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek support if you need it. With proper care and monitoring, most women with abnormal Pap smear results go on to lead healthy lives.


  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2018). Practice Bulletin No. 168: Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 132(3), e69–e89.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). What Do My Cervical Cancer Screening Test Results Mean? Retrieved from

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