How to Interpret Abnormal Pap Smear Results Family Doctor Logo

What does an abnormal Pap smear mean?

A Pap smear allows your doctor to look at the cells from your cervix (the lower part of your womb) and see if there are any problems, such as cancer. An abnormal Pap smear means that the cells of your cervix have shown some slightly unusual changes. Some abnormal cells are more likely than others to be cancerous. If your Pap smear is abnormal, ask your doctor which of the following changes you have.

What are common cervical cell changes?


ASC stands for atypical squamous cells. Squamous cells form the surface of your cervix. ASC is divided into two categories:

  • ASC-US means ASC with “uncertain significance.” Although some of your cells are not normal, your doctor may not know why the cells changed or what impact it will have on you. These changes are usually not serious and may be caused by a vaginal infection or infection with a virus called HPV (human papillomavirus). Your doctor may want to do a follow-up examination, such as a repeat Pap smear or HPV testing.
  • ASC-H means ASC with possible high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL). Some of your cells are not normal and there is a small possibility that they may be precancerous. Your doctor will probably want to perform a colposcopy, which will allow your doctor to more closely examine your cervix. See below for more information on colposcopy.


AGC stands for atypical glandular cells. Glandular cells are cells that produce mucus and are located in your cervix or uterus. These results mean that some of your glandular cells are not normal, but your doctor does not know why. These changes are usually more serious. People who have AGC can have a higher risk for cervical cancer. Your doctor will probably want to perform a colposcopy to examine any irregular tissue.


LSIL stands for low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion. Low-grade means there are early changes in the size and shape of the cells. LSILs are often associated with HPV. Your doctor will probably recommend a repeat Pap smear, but may want to do a colposcopy if you have had several abnormal Pap smears in a row.


HSIL stands for high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion. High-grade means the cells are very different from normal cells. These cells are more likely to lead to cervical cancer. Your doctor will probably perform a colposcopy to determine how at risk you are for cancer.