Causes for an abnormal Pap smear

Last Modified: March 16, 2003

Question:

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

Answer:

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.

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