September 7, 2022

What Can Cause an Abnormal Pap Smear?

An abnormal Pap smear can indicate the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix. Some factors increase your risk of developing an abnormal Pap smear and require additional testing to mitigate future risks. If you have an abnormal Pap smear, it’s important to understand what might be triggering the response so you can take the appropriate measures to protect your health. An abnormal Pap smear is not uncommon, especially if it is your first test. This article highlights what may cause an abnormal Pap smear:

 Abnormal Pap Smear

Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections

The most common cause for an abnormal Pap smear is previous occurrences of sexually transmitted infections (STI). The CDC states that 27% of women will experience a recurrence or reinfection from a previous sexually transmitted disease, which may induce an inflammatory sequela that triggers an abnormal response. The other cause of an abnormal Pap smear is low-grade cervical cancer or precancerous lesions. Women who have had cervical cancer before are more likely to experience recurrent problems like chronic cervical discharge, bleeding after sex, and pelvic pain. An abnormal Pap smear can also be caused by immunosuppression caused by prescription medications, chemotherapy, and HIV/AIDS. Immunosuppression lowers your body’s natural ability to fight off infections which can lead to reproductive issues like post-coital uterine bleeding or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).


Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer by up to ten times, and it also increases your risk of developing other cancers. Additionally, smoking has negative impacts on your health outside of cancer risks, including a higher chance of developing lung diseases. If you smoke, or if there are people who smoke around you, review the impact this behavior may be having on your body and make changes accordingly.

Infection from Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections that can lead to an abnormal Pap smear. The HPV subtypes that have been associated with abnormal Pap smear are HPV type 16 and 18. These types are also linked to cancer of the cervix. It is important to get a shot of the HPV vaccine to reduce your risk of infection and any complications associated with it. It’s also important to understand that not everyone who has HPV will experience the symptoms of an abnormal Pap smear, so a test may be necessary in order to detect them.


HSIL (High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion) or LSIL (Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion) are different grades of abnormal Pap smears. HSIL is an abnormality that may require treatment, while LSIL is not a concern. If you have HSIL your cervix displays abnormal cells that could be pre-cancerous or cancerous. It’s important to see your provider so they can determine what the next steps are. If you have LSIL, your cervix displays some abnormal cells, but it’s not yet cancerous and can be monitored with additional tests and exams.

If you have an abnormal Pap smear, it’s important to understand what might be triggering the response so you can take the appropriate measures to protect your health. Some causes are more common than others, hence you need to review your risk factors and understand how they may be impacting your body. If you find that certain risk factors apply to you, speak with a medical professional about what steps you should take next.

If you have more inquiries on matters related to gynecology, women’s health, and wellbeing, contact us today! We have specialized in women’s services such as hormone therapy, weight management, and gynecology.