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What are Different Causes of an Abnormal Pap Test?

By Lumara Lee
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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It can be alarming for a woman to receive an abnormal pap test, but it doesn’t always mean that she has cancer. Any change in cervical cells that might indicate a precancerous condition, including an inflammation of the cells in the cervix caused by a bacterial, yeast, or viral infection, can cause an abnormal result. It can also be caused by hormonal changes caused by pregnancy or the use of birth control pills.

The most common cause of an abnormal pap test is the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that lowers a woman’s immunity to other infections. Most HPV clears up on its own, but sometimes it will cause a distortion of cervical cells to develop. These changes can cause cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition. Whenever this occurs, treatment is strongly recommended to prevent the dysplasia from developing into cancer.

Other STDs can cause benign cellular changes that will yield abnormal pap smear results, and most are easily treated. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis are vaginal infections caused by bacteria, and each of these can be eliminated by antibiotics. Both partners must be treated, or these infections most likely will be passed back and forth.

Genital herpes is another infection that can cause abnormal pap test results. There is no cure for this virus, and after an individual becomes infected, it remains in the body and causes occasional flare-ups.

Vaginal yeast infections can also cause abnormal results. Candida albicans is a fungus that is often present in the body and causes problems only when there is an overgrowth. It can be transmitted sexually, but its growth is more often caused by the use of antibiotics. Food allergies and hormonal changes caused by pregnancy can also contribute to the growth of this yeast-like fungus.

An abnormal pap test can indicate the presence of cervical cancer, but a woman shouldn’t panic when she receives these results. This simply means that there have been some changes that require further investigation. When this occurs, a medical professional will recommend further testing to see whether the changes were caused by an easily treatable condition or whether cancer is present. Great advances have been made in the treatment of cervical cancer, so when it is discovered in the early stages, the vast majority of women recover and go on to lead healthy lives.

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Discussion Comments
By anon942329 — On Mar 27, 2014

I got an abnormal pap smear test with mild cell changes. I was given a dosage of antibiotics and clotrimazole vaginal cream and told to have another smear test in six months. Is this a normal procedure?

By burcidi — On May 06, 2013

I had an abnormal pap smear test too, when I was pregnant. My doctor didn't find anything wrong though. I had a routine examination and was sent home. I guess it was just the hormones.

By fify — On May 05, 2013

@ddljohn-- Please don't worry. If it's an infection, it can be treated with medications. If it does turn out to be early stages of cervical cancer, then they can freeze those cells in the cervix to prevent it from becoming full-blown cancer. This procedure is called cryosurgery.

I had cryosurgery about ten years ago. I get regular check ups since then and my pap tests results have been coming back normal.

So an abnormal pap test is not as scary as it sounds. Your doctor will probably do some blood tests first to see if it's an infection. If not, you will get a colposcopy. Just hang in there, everything will be fine.

By ddljohn — On May 05, 2013

I just found out that I have an abnormal pap smear test. My doctor has called me in to see her on Monday for more testing. I'm very worried.

I've had yeast infections before and I know I don't have one now because there are no symptoms. Unfortunately, reading this article hasn't given me any relief because the other possible causes sound way more scary than an infection.

I'm trying to stay positive right now. I hope it's a bacterial or viral infection and not cancer.

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