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Understanding Cervical Changes: A Health Guide for Women

  • Posted: 01/21/2010

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Pap Test Results

Normal Results
Abormal Results
Unsatisfactory Results
Is It All Right if I Don't Get Tested Again Right Away?

Pap test results show if cervical cells are normal or abnormal. If you have an abnormal result, it's important to get the follow-up care and any needed tests or treatment that your health care provider suggests. Or, you may have an "unsatisfactory" result and need to have another Pap test.

How you can help improve the chances that your Pap test results will be correct:

  • Don't have a Pap test when you are having your menstrual period. The best time to schedule a Pap test is between 10 and 20 days after the start of your period.
  • For about 2 days before a Pap test, do not:
    • Douche
    • Use any creams or medicine in your vagina, unless your doctor tells you to do so. These may wash away cells or hide cells with changes.
  • Don't have sexual intercourse for 1 or 2 days before your Pap test. This may cause unclear results.

"My doctor helped explain what my Pap test results meant, and what I needed to do."
GRETCHEN, AGE 60

Normal Results

  • No abnormal cells were found.

Abnormal Results

This can mean one of the following:

  • The cells don't look completely normal, but doctors are uncertain about what the cell changes mean (ASC-US, ASC-H, or AGC),
  • Mild cell abnormalities were seen (LSIL),
  • Precancerous cells were present (HSIL or AIS), or
  • Cancer cells were seen.

Unsatisfactory Results

  • The lab sample may not have had enough cells, or the cells were clumped together or hidden by blood or mucus. You will need to have another Pap test.

See the Table 1 for more information about what Pap test results mean and what your health care provider might recommend you do next.

Is It All Right if I Don't Get Tested Again Right Away?

Changes in the cervix happen very slowly. So a few months' delay in getting another test usually does not mean the difference between getting cancer and not getting cancer.

More serious problems can develop when you do not have regular Pap tests or when you do not go back to your health care provider for care after an abnormal result.