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Waiting for Pap smear results can be worrisome for some as they’re indicator of cervical cancer. Millions of Pap tests are performed each year in the United States. Of these, approximately six percent come back abnormal.
Pap smear results are either positive or negative. If only normal cervical cells were discovered during your Pap test, it’s a negative result. No need for further testing until your next Pap smear.
If abnormal or unusual cells were discovered, it’s a positive result. Positive test results typically do not mean cancer. Most often it means changes in the cervical cells. These can include:
Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS). Squamous cells are flat and grow on the surface of a healthy cervix. With ASCUS, the Pap smear shows slightly abnormal squamous cells, but it doesn’t clearly suggest the presence of precancerous cells. The sample can be reanalyzed to check for viruses known cause cancer, such as some types of human papillomavirus (HPV). If there are no high-risk viruses present, the abnormal result isn’t of great concern. Your doctor will recommend another Pap smear in six months to a year. If troublesome viruses are present, further testing is necessary.
Cervical dysplasia is not flat out cancer, but may be precancerous. The cells look abnormal under the microscope, but they don’t invade nearby healthy tissue.
A squamous intraepithelial lesion means abnormal cells are present but only on the cervix’s surface. If they’re low-grade, the cells may hint a precancerous lesion is present, but it's likely years away from becoming cancer. If the cell changes are high-grade, the chance is greater the lesion may develop into cancer more quickly.
Squamous cell cancer or adenocarcinoma cells means the cells appear so abnormal cancer is almost certainly present.
Unfortunately the Pap smear isn’t 100 percent accurate. False positive and false negative results don’t occur very often, but they do happen. A false positive Pap test is when the results read abnormal cervical cells, but the cells are really normal.