Australian Government Department of Health
National Cervical Screening Program
Photos of Women

Pap Smear Results

An explanation of what the information in your Pap smear result means.

Your Pap smear provider will usually receive your Pap smear result within two weeks. You should contact your general practitioner, clinic or nurse to find out the result.

Many women feel anxious or worried when they have been told that their Pap smear result is not completely normal. An abnormal result hardly ever means you have cancer.

About one in every 10 Pap smear results will have a comment or indicate some kind of problem. Most of these are not serious, and your general practitioner should discuss them with you.

Unsatisfactory sample

Sometimes the report will indicate that the sample was unsatisfactory. This may happen for a variety of reasons:
  • the cells may be obscured by blood, inflammation or mucous;
  • there may not be enough cells on the sample to give an accurate assessment;
  • the smear may not have been properly prepared; or
  • the slide may have been broken.
If any of these problems occur, you will be asked to have another Pap smear in 6-12 weeks. This allows time for the cells of the cervix to renew, so there are enough for another sample.
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Inflammation

Quite often a Pap smear will show signs of inflammation. This means that the cells of the cervix are slightly irritated.

This irritation may be due to an infection, even though you may not be aware of any symptoms. This might be a bacterial infection or thrush. Sometimes the cause of the infection can be detected by the Pap smear. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about further tests to identify the infection and what treatment is required. Sometimes there is no cause found for the inflammation and the cell changes will go back to normal without the need for any treatment.

If your result shows signs of inflammation, but the smear is otherwise satisfactory, you do not need a repeat smear sooner than the usual two years between Pap smears.
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Endocervical cells

The report from the laboratory may comment on the presence of endocervical cells in the sample. If they are present, it shows that the sample of cells comes from the area where the squamous cells meet the glandular cells. This is called the transformation zone and is where cancer is more likely to develop. It is sometimes difficult to get a sample of the cells from this area, particularly when a woman is past menopause. This is because the transformation zone tends to move up into the cervical canal at this time of life.

If endocervical cells are not seen on your Pap smear, and you have been having regular smears without abnormal results, and you have no symptoms (such as unexplained bleeding), you do not need another one before the usual two year interval.

A drawing of Cells of the cervix
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Atrophic changes

It is common for women who have gone through menopause to have a Pap smear result noting atrophic changes. This is caused by reduction in the hormone oestrogen which is produced by the ovaries. This is a normal result of menopause. This lack of oestrogen can make the vaginal walls look red and irritated and is called ‘atrophic vaginitis’.

Atrophic vaginitis is easily treated. Your health professional will recommend you use vaginal oestrogen cream for a few weeks and have a repeat Pap smear in 3 to 6 months time to make sure the changes picked up on the Pap smear are due to a lack of oestrogen only.

Women who are breastfeeding may also experience a similar effect. Once a woman’s periods return, her oestrogen levels usually increase and any atrophic changes will resolve.

For further information contact your doctor,
health centre or family planning clinic, or phone 13 15 56 (for the cost of a local call).

Page currency, Latest update: 14 May, 2011