Treatments and tests

Understanding your Pap smear results

Your Pap smear results will be sent to the practice or clinic where you had the Pap smear. Your health professional will notify you of your results as you had agreed to in your consultation appointment. The results may be:

  • negative or normal
  • unsatisfactory
  • abnormal.

The results of your Pap smear will also be sent to the Cervical Screening Registry (CSR) of Western Australia.

Negative Pap smear results

More than 9 out of 10 Pap smear results are negative. This means that all the cells that were examined on the Pap smear slide are normal.

Follow-up after a negative Pap smear result

Your next Pap smear will be due in 2 years. 

Unsatisfactory Pap smear result

An unsatisfactory result means there was a problem with either collecting the cells or examining the cells. Approximately 2 out of 100 Pap smears are unsatisfactory.

Reasons for an unsatisfactory result include:

  • Cervical cells on the slide cannot be seen due to blood, inflammation or mucous.
  • Not enough cervical cells are present on the slide to accurately assess, because:
    • The smear was not properly prepared
    • The slide may have been broken in transport. 

Follow-up after an unsatisfactory Pap smear result

You will need to repeat your Pap smear within 3 months.

Abnormal Pap smear results

An abnormal Pap smear result means that the cells of the cervix appear different. This does not mean you have cervical cancer. 

Abnormal Pap smears are given different grades of severity. 

Low-grade abnormality means that the cervical cells are ‘a little bit different’, or slightly abnormal, and indicate infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is usually cleared on its own by the body within 1 to 2 years.

Your health professional will advise you of the appropriate follow-up. Most women with low-grade changes will need to have a repeat Pap smear in 1 year to make sure the HPV infection has been cleared.

Women who are 30 years or older with low-grade changes on their Pap smear and who have not had a negative Pap smear result in the past 3 years will either be recommended a repeat Pap smear in 6 months or be referred for a colposcopy.

The earlier follow-up in this age group is due to the fact that the cervical cell changes among this age group are more likely to represent a persistent HPV infection, which has a greater chance of progressing to high-grade changes.

High-grade abnormality means that the cervical cells have undergone greater changes. This is most likely due to a HPV infection that has persisted. This does not mean you have cervical cancer. However, if a result of high-grade abnormality is not followed up, and if needed treated, it could lead to cervical cancer.

The follow up for a high-grade abnormality is a referral to a specialist for colposcopy. The specialist will examine your cervix and determine if there is a need to take a cervical biopsy

Treatment of abnormal cervical cells

There are a variety of treatments available and your health professional will discuss the best options for you.
  • Wire loop – abnormal cells are ‘scooped’ from the cervix with a fine wire loop. This procedure takes about 15 minutes. A local anaesthetic is used and a hospital stay is usually not required.
  • Laser – abnormal cells are removed using a laser. This procedure takes about 15 minutes and is done using local anaesthetic. Sometimes a general anaesthetic is used and a short hospital stay is necessary.
  • Diathermy – abnormal cells are destroyed using heat. This is carried out under a general anaesthetic and may require a day in hospital.
  • Cone biopsy – a minor operation to remove a small cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix. This requires a general anaesthetic and a day or overnight stay in hospital.
  • Hysterectomy – an operation to remove the uterus and is rarely required for an abnormal Pap smear. Your doctor will advise you if this surgery is recommended. 

Feel free to ask your health professional as many questions as you like so that you understand your results and treatment. You may find these examples useful:

  • What does my Pap smear result mean?
  • Do I need more tests?
  • What treatment do you advise and why?
  • Are there any other options?
  • Will I need to take time off work?
  • Will there be bleeding/vaginal discharge?
  • Will the treatment affect my sex life?
  • How often will I need to come back?
  • When is my next check-up due?
  • How else can I take care of myself?
  • Can you give me more information about HPV?

After your treatment

Some women experience abdominal cramps after treatment. This can feel like a painful period. It is also normal to have a dark or watery vaginal discharge for up to 4 weeks. This may include the passing of small clots while your cervix heals.

You will be advised not to have sexual intercourse for about 1 month while your cervix is healing. Some women find that it takes longer before they feel like having sexual intercourse again.

Your doctor may also advise you not to use tampons for a short while.

Following any abnormality, you will need to have regular check-ups, as recommended by your doctor.

After treatment for a high-grade abnormality, these check-ups may include further colposcopy and other tests such as HPV DNA tests (see table below). All abnormalities need to be monitored carefully.

Table: Management after treatment for high-grade abnormalities
Time period after treatment
4 – 6 months after treatment
Pap smear and colposcopy with specialist
12 months after treatment
Pap smear and HPV DNA test with health professional
24 months after treatment
Pap smear and HPV DNA test with health professional

If left untreated

If your cervical abnormality is not monitored, and if needed treated, it may progress to cervical cancer. 

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

WA Cervical Cancer Prevention Program

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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