Abnormal Pap Smear

What Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean?

Cervical cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death among women. Fortunately, when caught early through regular screening and early detection, cervical cancer is almost always treatable. However, when any abnormal Pap smear results come back, it is normal to feel somewhat anxious. Understanding an abnormal result can alleviate anxiety and help you make informed decisions about what to do next. 

Abnormal Does Not Always Mean Cancerous

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that an abnormal Pap smear result does not always mean that cancer cells have been found. Many factors can result in abnormal cells being detected, the most common of which is an infection such as yeast, chlamydia, or gonorrhea. Once the underlying cause of the abnormality is cleared up, a follow-up test is repeated in a few months and often results in a clean bill of health.


Minor cell changes are called dysplasia. These results are abnormal, but the likelihood is that there is nothing to be concerned about. Doctors will often suggest waiting and performing another Pap smear in a few months to see if the abnormality has cleared up on its own.

Atypical Squamous Cells

Your results may show atypical squamous cells (ASC) usually with another letter afterward. If they are labeled to be of undetermined significance (ASC-US), these are usually mild changes that generally clear themselves up over time. If they are labeled high-grade (ASC-H), these are at a higher risk of being precancerous and may require treatment.

Low-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (LSIL)

These results are more abnormal than ASC-US results, and it is recommended that all women with LSIL results undergo immediate further examination with a colposcopy to get a clearer understanding of what is causing the abnormal Pap smear. A biopsy usually accompanies this to further establish the nature of the abnormal cells. Cells exhibiting LSIL are mildly abnormal, but often result from an HPV infection. The good news is that LSIL results do return to normal within several months for many women.

High-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (HSIL)

This is the most severe abnormality that is not actually cancer. The cells causing these results are very different from normal cells and have a high likelihood of becoming cancerous if left untreated. A result of HSIL on a Pap smear will require immediate further examination and treatment.

Don’t let the unfamiliar terms and alphabet soup lure you into unwarranted anxiety. Cervical screenings are very accurate and the best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

Call 615-329-6745 today to schedule your annual pap smear at Women’s Medical Associates of Nashville.