A Pap test may be done as part of a woman's routine physical exam because it's the best way to prevent cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap test means that a Pap test reading found some abnormality on the cells of the cervix. Having an abnormal test result doesn't necessarily mean that a person has cancer. Only a biopsy can let someone know for sure.
The most common cause for the abnormal cell changes is from certain types of human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. Usually, these types of cell changes will go away on their own, but certain types of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer. The changed cells can also be caused by other types of infection, such as those caused by bacteria or yeast. Women who have been through menopause may find that the abnormal Pap test is just the result of getting older.
There are many different factors that can increase the risk for an abnormal Pap test. These include: sexual behaviors, such as having sex without condoms or having more than one sexual partner. Smoking or having an impaired immune system also raises the chances of having cell changes in the cervix. The cell changes evident in abnormal Pap smears don't cause symptoms themselves. If a sexually transmitted infection, other than HPV, is the cause of an abnormal test, there may be symptoms such as: