What Is an Abnormal Pap Smear?

An abnormal Pap smear means that there are cell changes in the cervix that do not look normal. Changes in cells of the cervix may be due to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can be a risk factor for cervical cancer. Although a Pap smear may be abnormal, it is not an indication of cervical cancer, states the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Pap smear is a screening tool used for cervical cancer. Pap smear results can be normal, unclear and abnormal. When the results are either unclear or abnormal, further testing is necessary. When abnormal cells are detected in a Pap smear, it may be referred to as pre-cancer, notes the CDC. It takes up to 15 years for cervical cells to transform from being normal to abnormal.

The changes in cell can be either minor, moderate or more advanced, states WebMD. Although having an abnormal Pap result may not mean cancer, other tests are used to further evaluate the cause or extent of changes in cervical cells. These additional tests may be a colposcopy or HPV test. A colposcopy is a procedure to examine more closely the cervix. A biopsy may be taken during this exam. If the cell changes are in a more advanced stage, then treatment is necessary to excise these cells.