Understanding Your Cervical Cancer Screening Test Results

Cervical screening includes Pap testing and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) reflex testing, which tests for HPV. Everyone who has gone for screening will have a Pap test. The lab automatically completes an HPV reflex test on your Pap test sample depending on your age and Pap test result. This combined Pap and HPV reflex testing system helps your healthcare provider recommend appropriate follow-up.

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Pap Test Results

What are the types of Pap test results?

The result of your Pap test can be normal, unsatisfactory, or abnormal.

What does a normal Pap test result mean?

A normal (or “negative”) result means that the cervical cells appear normal, and no abnormal cell changes were found on your cervix. You can return to your regular cervical screening schedule.

New cell changes can still form on your cervix after a Pap test. Continue with routine Pap tests at least every three years. 

What does an unsatisfactory Pap test result mean?

Sometimes, the laboratory has difficulty seeing the cells in your Pap test. This may be because:

  • Blood was mixed with the cells.
  • Cells were not visible because of inflammation.
  • Not enough cells were collected to give an accurate result.
  • The specimen could have been damaged in transit to the laboratory.

If you have an unsatisfactory result, you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider. You will be advised to have a repeat Pap test in three months.

What does an abnormal Pap test result mean?

An abnormal result means some of the cells of the cervix look different from normal cells. This does not mean that you have cervical cancer. It means that more follow-up testing is required.

The cell changes may be mild, moderate, or severe. It is important to note that mild cell changes usually return to normal within two years. However, more severe changes may turn into cancer if they are not treated. In rare cases, an abnormal Pap test can show you may have cancer. You will need other tests to be sure.

What causes an abnormal Pap test result?

An abnormal result is often caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV causes an infection that will most often clear on its own. However, some infections may lead to precancerous cell changes that could progress to cervical cancer, if left untreated.

Some abnormal results could be related to changes like pregnancy, menopause, or an infection.

What happens after an abnormal Pap test result?

Your healthcare provider will contact you for an appointment to discuss your results and any follow-up tests you may need. You may be asked to go for repeat Pap tests or be referred to a specialist for a colposcopy.


HPV Reflex Test Results

Depending on your age and Pap test result, the lab will automatically complete an HPV test on your sample.

What are the types of HPV reflex test results?

An HPV reflex test result can be:

  • Negative
  • no result, or
  • positive.

What does a negative HPV reflex test result mean?

A negative HPV reflex test result means you do not have high-risk HPV. Your risk of developing cervical cancer before your next Pap test is the same as if you had a normal Pap test result.

You can return to your regular cervical screening schedule.

What does a HPV no result mean?

An HPV no result means the lab could not test the sample for HPV. You will need to have a repeat HPV test as soon as possible. Contact your healthcare provider to discuss your result and repeat the test.

What does a positive HPV reflex test result mean?

A positive HPV reflex result means that you have high-risk HPV. It does not mean you have or will develop cervical cancer. High-risk HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. These changes can progress over the years from precancerous cell changes into cervical cancer, if left undetected and untreated. It is important to speak with your health care provider, who will refer you to a specialist for a colposcopy.


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