A pap smear is a screening test to detect pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. Finding out that your pap smear is abnormal can be a frightening experience. Approximately one in seven women have abnormal pap smears. The vast majority of these require no intervention other than close monitoring. If your pap is abnormal, your gyn provider is likely to schedule a colposcopy to further assess the cervix under magnification. Biopsies of the cervix are taken to rule out any dysplasia or precancerous change. This procedure causes minimal dyscomfort and you can return to normal activities right away. If mild dysplasia is noted, you will simply be followed with frequent pap smears. If moderate or severe dysplasia is noted, your doctor may recommend additional procedures. 

Most abnormal paps are caused by a very common virus called human papilloma virus. Most strains of the virus cause no effect; however some strains may cause genital warts, cervical, vaginal or vulvar dysplasia or cancer. HPV is first introduced into the genital tract with sexual intercourse and therefore sexually active women should be screened with a Pap smear for cervical cancer.