Causes for an abnormal Pap smear

Last Modified: March 16, 2003


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
Could my abnormal Pap smear result be due to having intercourse within 48 hours of my exam? 


Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

While I cannot comment on the cause of your abnormal pap test without knowing the exact reading of the Pap, here is a list of some things other than cervical cancer, which can cause an abnormal result:

  • cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (otherwise known as dysplasia or CIN)
  • atrophic changes (due to low estrogen states like in menopause or pregnancy)
  • condyloma (HPV infection)
  • inflammation
  • regeneration after injury or surgery (metaplasia)
  • vaginal cancer
  • vulvar cancer
  • other genital tract cancer (endometrium, fallopian tube, ovary)
  • previous radiation therapy

In addition, some "abnormal" results do not have a known cause, are not serious, and go away on their own. You should abstain from intercourse for 48 hours before any future Pap tests.