Making your Pap test results less confusing

ladies exercise_smallMaybe you have had a Pap test and your doctor said that you have cervical dysplasia (also called CIN) ASC-US or SIL. Just hearing those words can be scary. Here’s some information to help make your Pap test results less confusing.

Pap test results are grouped into several categories depending on what the doctor sees when looking at the specimen under the microscope. If changes in cells from the cervix are found following a Pap test, it can mean that cancer – or a maybe a pre-cancer – is present.

The term ASC-US (atypical cells of uncertain significance) is used when the cells look abnormal, but it’s not possible to determine the reason why under the microscope.  It may be caused by an infection, irritation or a pre-cancer, for example. Usually ASC-US cells are not pre-cancer, but more testing needs to be done just to be sure. Which additional tests are needed will depend on the results of the tests already done.

Dysplasia and CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) are terms that describe changes in the cervix cells.

They are often given a grade of mild, moderate or severe:

  • Mild dysplasia (CIN1) may go away on its own without treatment
  • Moderate (CIN2) and Severe (CIN3) mean there are serious changes in the cells

SIL (squamous intraepithelial lesion) is a term used when the cells on the surface of the cervix appear abnormal under the microscope.

  • High grade SIL (HSIL) means the cells look very abnormal
  • Low-grade SIL (LSIL) means the cells look slightly abnormal

After a laboratory doctor, or pathologist, examines the cells under the microscope and assigns a category, your own doctor will discuss next steps with you, based on these categories. Sometimes, abnormal Pap results are tested further to see if the cells are positive for certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus) that can cause cancer. Other times, abnormal Pap results are followed up by having a procedure called a colposcopy.

Usually done in the doctor’s office, a colposcopy is a quick procedure where the cervix and vagina are examined by using a special lens to see if there are any areas that appear irregular or abnormal. If an abnormality is found, a biopsy is taken and sent to the lab where a pathologist determines if pre-cancer or cancer is present.

It’s good to know that having an abnormal Pap test is quite common, and does not mean you have cervical cancer. A Pap test may be repeated several months later , often showing things have returned to normal without any treatment.

If you have had an abnormal Pap test, ask your doctor to explain what the results mean for your situation, ask what tests or treatments are needed (if any), and how often you should come back for a follow up appointment. What’s key is that you follow up with your doctor to be sure that irregular areas go away on their own or are quickly treated to prevent a serious medical condition from developing.

Learn more about the Pap Test




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