1. Low grade abnormalities
I have a low grade abnormality on my Pap smear. What does this mean?
It is most likely that you have an infection with HPV. This is a viral infection, not cancer.
What is HPV?
This is a very common sexually transmitted virus.
In some cases, it can increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer. However, most women with HPV do not develop cervical cancer.
4 out of 5 people will have this infection at sometime in their lives and they may not even know about it.
If you have HPV, it does not mean you will have herpes.
There are over 100 different types of HPV. Some of these affect the genitals and the cervix.
Most people will have HPV at some time in their lives and never know it. You may become aware of HPV if you have an abnormal Pap smear result, or if genital warts appear.
When did I get this infection with HPV?
You could have caught HPV recently, or many months or years ago.
What will happen next?
The most likely thing is that your body will clear this infection and your Pap smear will return to normal.
Most women will clear HPV infection in one to two years
Why does it matter?
In a very small number of women the HPV infection is not cleared but stays in the cervix. In these women, there is a risk that abnormalities will develop that might lead to cancer over many years if they are not treated.
What should be done about this?
You will be monitored with a repeat Pap smear to make sure the infection clears.
If your repeat smear shows that the abnormality has stayed, you will be referred for colposcopy.
Should I have a special test for HPV?
There is a test that can identify strains of HPV. This is not a test for cancer.
Experts recommend that HPV testing be used for women who have been treated for a high grade abnormality. The HPV test is done to make sure the virus has gone from your body.
Because most HPV infections clear up naturally, there is little reason for other women to have an HPV test.
While a Pap smear cannot identify which type of HPV is present, regular Pap smears will make sure any changes that occur are found early and managed well.
2. High grade abnormalities
I have a high grade abnormality on my Pap smear. What does this mean?
It is most likely that you have an HPV infection which has persisted and caused an abnormality. This may lead to cancer over many years if left untreated.
What will happen next?
You will be referred for a colposcopy.
Will I need treatment?
The results of the biopsy will be discussed with you and a decision will be made regarding the need for treatment.
3. Glandular abnormalities
I have a glandular abnormality on my Pap smear. What does this mean?
The glandular cells of the cervix are located mainly in the canal of the cervix. We know less about the early changes in these cells compared to changes in squamous cells, which cause the majority of abnormal Pap smear results. HPV may be related to some of these cell changes.
Glandular abnormalities are uncommon and in most women the changes are found to be unimportant.
However, in some women the changes are due to abnormalities that do need to be treated in order to prevent cancer. These cell changes need further assessment because a Pap smear is not as reliable in diagnosing the problem in glandular cells.