A variety of cells found in a pap smear can be atypical, including cancerous and precancerous cells as well as cells that indicate a virus linked to cancer is present, explains Mayo Clinic. Usually doctors perform further tests to determine if atypical cells should be of concern.
Two cell types are so atypical that they likely signal cancer, reports Mayo Clinic. Squamous cell cancer occurs in the vagina or the cervix, while adenocarcinoma cells appear in glandular cells, which produce mucus. If they are found, the physician will order further tests and may take a biopsy. If the pap smear finds atypical glandular cells, it means that some glandular cells appear atypical, but it is unclear if they are cancerous. The physician will order further tests and may take a biopsy if a patient receives these results.
Squamous intraepithelial lesions are precancerous, according to Mayo Clinic. The cells are evaluated based on the level of abnormality. Low-grade cells may mean that if cancer occurs it will be years away, while high-grade cells could indicate cancer sooner. Further tests will usually be run to determine a course of treatment.
Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance are slightly atypical cells that do not appear precancerous, reports Mayo Clinic. They may indicate presence of a virus, like human papillomavirus, that increases cancer risk. If the tests for viruses come back negative, the cells are usually of no concern.