Abnormal Pap Test

A Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is a test done during a woman’s pelvic exam to screen for cervical cancer.

Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

Causes & Risk Factors

An abnormal Pap test means the cells collected show abnormal changes. It does not necessarily mean a woman has cancer. There are many causes for abnormal Pap tests, including infections. 

Symptoms & Types

If results are abnormal, a doctor may recommend:

  • A repeat Pap test
  • A colposcopy – a procedure that uses a high-powered microscope (colposcope) to view the tiny cells on the cervix. A small tissue sample, known as a biopsy, may be removed for closer examination.  

Diagnosis & Tests

During the procedure, the doctor gently collects some cells from the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) using a tiny brush. The cells collected are examined under a microscope for changes that may lead to cervical cancer. In some cases they may also be checked for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Living & Managing

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends young women have their first Pap test at 21 years of age.

If a woman was sexually active before age 18, or has special risk factors such as HIV or immune problems, a doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent Pap tests.

Regular Pap tests can help prevent most types of cervical cancer by finding and treating precancerous cells early.