Understanding the Results of HPV Tests and Pap Tests

Women who undergo regular cervical cancer screening tests do not usually develop cervical cancer. Instead, they will find out they have human papillomavirus (HPV) infection or abnormal cervical cell growth or changes.

In both scenarios, their doctors can regularly monitor their condition to ensure it does not worsen. Treatment can also be administered to slow the progression of abnormal cell changes. The earlier this is done, the better.

Understanding HPV Test Results 

An HPV test looks for signs of high-risk HPV strains in your cervical cells. The results will come back positive or negative.

Negative HPV Test Results

If the HPV test results return negative, the doctor found no evidence of high-risk HPV in your cervix. Then your doctor will advise you to get another HPV test in five years.

Please Note: If you previously had positive HPV test results but now have negative HPV test results, your doctor will want you to get the testing more frequently to ensure you don’t have a dormant HPV strain.

Positive HPV Test Results

Positive HPV test results mean evidence of a high-risk HPV strain was discovered during the evaluation. Your doctor will give you specific instructions and treatment recommendations on how to proceed.

Some women end up with positive HPV test results after testing negative for many years before. Positive HPV test results do not necessarily mean the women contracted a new HPV strain because it could be an old HPV strain that infected them at some point in their past, whether they knew it or not. Perhaps the strain remained dormant for many years, so they had negative test results during those years. But now, the dormant strain could have reactivated and caused them to have symptoms again.

Understanding Pap Test Results

 A pap test procedure involves collecting a cell sample from the cervix and evaluating the sample under a microscope in a laboratory to check for signs of abnormalities. The test results will come back unsatisfactory, normal, or abnormal.

Unsatisfactory Pap Test Results

Unsatisfactory test results indicate the cervical cell sample lacked the proper number of cells needed to check for signs of abnormal cell growth. These results could also suggest that mucus or blood was lumped together with the cells, compromising the results. Your doctor will likely ask you to return for another pap test in about 2 to 4 months if your results are unsatisfactory.

Normal Pap Test Results

Normal test results indicate no abnormal growth in your cervical cells. These are the results every woman wants to hear because it means they are not under an immediate threat of abnormal cervical cell growth. However, a dormant HPV strain could still cause normal test results, so keep that in mind.

Abnormal Pap Test Results

Abnormal test results are another way of saying positive test results. If your results come back abnormal or positive, your doctor has found signs of abnormal cell growth in your cervix. These abnormal cervical cells appear different than healthy cervical cells.

Remember that having abnormal test results does not mean you have cervical cancer. But it is an early warning sign that cervical cancer could develop if you do not continue monitoring and treating the condition to slow down the abnormal cell growth.

Follow-Up Testing and Treatment

Women with abnormal pap test results must seek regular follow-up appointments with their doctor to monitor and treat their abnormal cervical cells.

According to American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) guidelines, the follow-up care that your doctor recommends should be based on your prior cervical cancer screening test results, personal health factors (e.g., age), and prior treatments received for abnormal cervical cell changes.

Your doctor will want to determine your level of risk for developing cervical cancer before giving their recommendations. If your doctor decides you have a high chance of getting cervical cancer, they may want you to get a Pap test and HPV test together every 1 to 3 years. You can expect to receive a colposcopy and biopsy too.

The latest ASCCP guidelines are geared more toward diagnosing and treating the most severe cases of cervical cell changes because they have a greater chance of turning into cervical cancer. But the guidelines also suggest less treatment and testing for women with minor cervical cell changes.

What is a Colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a procedure where the doctor gently holds open the vaginal walls using a speculum instrument to get a clear view of the cervix. Then, the doctor applies a vinegar solution to the cervix to make the abnormal areas visible. From there, the doctor will use a colposcope instrument to magnify and illuminate the cervix and vagina to study the abnormal regions more closely.

What is a Cervical Biopsy?

A cervical biopsy typically follows a colposcopy procedure. The biopsy requires the doctor to extract a cervical cell or tissue sample to study under a microscope to look for signs of cervical cancer or abnormalities. In addition, a cervical biopsy could also help treat abnormal cervical tissues and lesions by removing them from the cervix partially or entirely.

A pathologist evaluates the biopsy samples to determine if cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) exists on the cervical surface. CIN is a medical term to describe abnormal cervical cell growth. If the pathologist discovers CIN from the biopsy sample, they will grade its severity on a scale from 1 to 3.

A CIN 1 result indicates the detection of mild abnormal cell growth and should disappear without requiring treatment.

A CIN 2 result indicates moderate levels of abnormal cell growth. Sometimes treatment is unnecessary for women with a CIN 2 result, especially if they have strong immune systems. But if the abnormalities worsen or don’t go away after a couple of years, the doctor will recommend treatment to remove those abnormal cells.

A CIN 3 result indicates severe abnormalities in the cervical cells. It doesn’t necessarily mean cancer is present at the moment, but cancer will likely develop in the near future unless those abnormal cells are removed soon.

Is there Anything You Can Do to Fight HPV Naturally?

There are alternative to treat HPV that are natural and include treating the whole body with exercise, diet, and supplements including AHCC which is an all-natural, mushroom derived ingredient made in Japan.

Consult Your Doctor 

Your doctor will recommend the best treatment options for abnormal cervical cell conditions. These recommendations could be treatments like a loop electrosurgical excision procedure, cold knife conization, laser therapy, cryotherapy, or a total hysterectomy.