Conditions and diseases

Abnormal pap smear

Symptoms and causes

Symptoms and causes

What is it?

A cervical smear is a gynaecological exam in which cells are removed from the cervix using a brush or spatula. These cells are examined under the microscope in the laboratory by the pathologist. If the cervical smear shows cells that are not entirely normal, we refer to it an as an abnormal cervical smear.

How often does it occur?

It is normal for most women to be anxious when they hear that an abnormality has been found in their smear. However, abnormal smears do not indicate the presence of cervical cancerin the vast majority of cases. This cancer is relatively rare and occurs in 10 women out of 100,000 that are screened each year. On the other hand, abnormal smears are common. One in twenty cervical smears are found 'not to be completely normal' and require a second check or additional testing.


Usually, abnormalities are caused by one of the many described strains of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus is diagnosed in more than 75% of all sexually active women at some point in their lives. These HPV strains are easily transmitted during sexual contact. In more than 98% of HPV-infected women, the virus disappears spontaneously within one to two years with a clean-up reaction of the immune system. The prolonged presence of some types of HPV can lead to changes in the cervix. Other cervical abnormalities are more likely to be due to menopausal dryness or infection with bacteria or fungi.

Is there anything I can do, if I have an HPV infection?

First of all, regular check-ups with your physician are recommended. We recommend that you stop smoking because it has been shown that there is a definite link between smoking, the continued presence of certain HPV strains and a higher risk of cervical cancer in old age.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis and treatment

A colonoscopy and biopsy can be performed after an abnormal cervical smear.

For mild abnormalities, you will only receive an invitation to do a new cervical smear after a few months to a year. In case of more extensive abnormalities, further treatment will follow. Currently, the most common and effective treatment consists of a lusexcision. Other valid options are laser treatment, freezing or conisation. Your physican will decide in consultation with you, which treatments are the most appropriate.

Latest publication date: 14/05/2024