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What does abnormal cells in a Pap test indicate?

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Posted on Tue, 11 Mar 2014
Question: Hello, I am a female about ready to have my first sexual experience with another female. My friend is deeply anxious however, as she is convinced she has low risk HPV even though all HPV tests have come back negative for 3 years. A pap she had 3 years ago came back with abnormal cells. I've tried to tell her this is very common and does not mean she is absolutely carrying HPV. She struggles with anxiety, however, as I do, and this one really has her scared for my safety. I think it is unwarranted, but I am willing to take as many precautionary measures as possible (e.g. no oral sex, no sharing of toys, etc) to ease her concerns. Am I correct in thinking that if we wear nitrile gloves and do not immediately touch our own genitals with the same gloves as we have touched each other we will be safe? We are all about safe sex. I will forward your answer to her. Thank you
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Answered by Dr. Kakkar S. (59 minutes later)
Brief Answer: Hello Detailed Answer: Hi. Thanks for posting your concern at HCM Pap testing is done routinely to look for abnormal cells/cell changes caused by High risk HPV types e.g Type 16 and type 18. Low-risk HPVs, which do not cause cancer (but can cause skin warts on or around the genitals or anus) e.g HPV types 6 and 11 would not produce an abnormal Pap test result. If a woman is found to have an abnormal Pap test result, the doctor may have the sample tested for high-risk HPV types. However since the HPV test results have come out to be repeatedly negative in her, so that rules out HPV infection. Many times, abnormal cell changes in the cervix (detected by abnormal pap test) go away without treatment, especially if there is no evidence of infection with high-risk HPV. Because abnormal cell changes can be caused by low hormone levels, applying an estrogen cream to the cervix for a few weeks can usually help to clarify their cause. It is also important to remember that abnormalities rarely become cancerous. Low-risk HPVs, which do not cause cancer but can cause skin warts on or around the genitals or anus e.g HPV types 6 and 11. To summarize, Because low risk HPV types do not produce any abnormal cell changes therefore it cannot be detected by Pap testing. Pap testing if abnormal can only be due to High risk HPV types, if at all. The most reliable way to prevent infection with either a high-risk or a low-risk HPV is to avoid any skin-to-skin oral, anal, or genital contact with another person. The gloved method which you plan to use is absolutely safe. take care regards
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
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Dr. Kakkar S.

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Practicing since :2002

Answered : 9544 Questions

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What does abnormal cells in a Pap test indicate?

Brief Answer: Hello Detailed Answer: Hi. Thanks for posting your concern at HCM Pap testing is done routinely to look for abnormal cells/cell changes caused by High risk HPV types e.g Type 16 and type 18. Low-risk HPVs, which do not cause cancer (but can cause skin warts on or around the genitals or anus) e.g HPV types 6 and 11 would not produce an abnormal Pap test result. If a woman is found to have an abnormal Pap test result, the doctor may have the sample tested for high-risk HPV types. However since the HPV test results have come out to be repeatedly negative in her, so that rules out HPV infection. Many times, abnormal cell changes in the cervix (detected by abnormal pap test) go away without treatment, especially if there is no evidence of infection with high-risk HPV. Because abnormal cell changes can be caused by low hormone levels, applying an estrogen cream to the cervix for a few weeks can usually help to clarify their cause. It is also important to remember that abnormalities rarely become cancerous. Low-risk HPVs, which do not cause cancer but can cause skin warts on or around the genitals or anus e.g HPV types 6 and 11. To summarize, Because low risk HPV types do not produce any abnormal cell changes therefore it cannot be detected by Pap testing. Pap testing if abnormal can only be due to High risk HPV types, if at all. The most reliable way to prevent infection with either a high-risk or a low-risk HPV is to avoid any skin-to-skin oral, anal, or genital contact with another person. The gloved method which you plan to use is absolutely safe. take care regards