Abnormal results on a Pap smear means that results came back positive. If you receive a negative result, everything is normal, and you don’t need to do anything. A positive result, however, doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. The result depends on what the abnormality is.
There’s really no way to know a false-negative test has occurred without re-testing. A false-negative result doesn’t happen because of a mistake in testing. It may be the result of an inadequate collection of cells during the Pap smear, a very small number of abnormal cells, or other cells that block the appearance of any abnormal cells. Given the slow rate at which cervical cancer develops, though, even if you have a false-negative result, it’s likely your next Pap smear will detect the abnormalities.
Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance – or ASCUS. This means there are some abnormal squamous cells, but that, on its own, is not necessarily a problem. Further tests will check for other high cancer risk viruses. If there are no high-risk viruses present, then the abnormal cells aren’t a problem.
Squamous intraepithelial lesions will create abnormal results. Low grade changes mean that if there’s a lesion present, it’s years away from developing into cancer. More frequent Pap tests may be suggested, but you’re in no immediate danger. High grade changes mean that a lesion may become cancerous sooner, and more testing is required.
Atypical glandular cells will trigger an abnormal Pap smear, but only further testing can determine if the condition is cancerous. That testing determines the source and significance of the atypical cells.
Squamous cell cancer or adenocarcinoma cells do indicate that cancer is likely, and additional testing will likely be done immediately. Biopsies and colposcopies are typically performed in this case.