Intermountain Healthcare

Expert Advice when a Pap Smear Result Is Abnormal


Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 09/14/2021 --Women over the age of 21 are encouraged to have a pap smear during their annual well-woman exam. A quick, if briefly uncomfortable, screening that check for abnormal changes.

A pap smear is a test that detects precancerous changes on the cervix. The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus, located inside the vagina. A virus called the human papillomavirus or HPV, often causes cervical cancer. HPV can be passed during sexual contact.

A pap smear requires your provider to place a speculum into the vagina to view the cervix, then scrape away cells from the cervix using a brush. Once removed, the cells are tested for abnormal changes.

Martie Nightingale, CNM, DNP, Intermountain Healthcare, said getting regular pap smears is important as it allows these precancerous changes to be detected and treated before it turns into cervical cancer.

Symptoms of cervical cancer often do not begin until the cancer is growing quickly and begins to spread to other body parts. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:

- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during intercourse

Nightingale gives this advice when making an appointment with your doctor.

- Schedule your pap smear for a day when you are not having heavy period bleeding. If you must go during your period, avoid putting anything in your vagina for at least 24 hours before your appointment.
- Avoid douching.
- Abstain from sexual intercourse for one to two days before your Pap smear.

"Current recommendations for cervical cancer screening include pap testing every three years beginning at age 21," said Nightingale. "Beginning at age 30 a pap test with HPV testing -- called co-testing -- every five years or pap testing alone every three years." She adds that women with HIV or a weakened immune system may require more frequent or additional testing.

Nightingale says to not over react if the test doesn't come back abnormal. "Most abnormal test results don't mean you have cancer. An abnormal pap can result from temporary changes like a vaginal infection, or reactive or repairing cells that may need to be monitored a bit more frequently."

If it is abnormal, Nightingale recommendeds talking with your doctor about next steps. These can vary depending on age, type and severity of abnormality, and previous history, and may include additional testing for high-risk HPV, repeat testing in one year, or a colposcopy exam with cervical biopsy.

For more information, see:
Where can women go for more information?

- Intermountain Healthcare: Women's Health

- American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG)

- ACOG Cervical Cancer Screening:

- ACOG Abnormal Pap Test results:

About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 25 hospitals, 225 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,600 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in clinical quality improvement and in efficient healthcare delivery. For more information about Intermountain, visit, read our blogs, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.