What does an abnormal smear mean?

Written by: Mr Stewart Disu
Edited by: Laura Burgess

An abnormal smear is also called a Papanicolaou (Pap) test where cells of the cervix change shape and size. The nucleus of these cells may also appear darker and larger and are referred to as dyskaryosis. Understandably, it's easy to feel nervous or worried to hear that your test results have come back abnormal so we have asked one of our expert gynaecologists Mr Stewart Disu to explain what this could possibly mean. 

Could an abnormal smear test mean cancer?

No, it does not mean cancer in a large majority of cases but it does indicate the presence of pre-cancerous cells. These can change into cancer over a five to ten year period if left untreated.

What can cause an abnormal pap smear besides HPV?

Many different factors can cause an abnormal smear. Some of these include:

  • smoking
  • multiple sexual partners
  • low immunity

These can predispose a woman to develop an abnormal smear.

What happens after an abnormal pap smear?

After you have had an abnormal pap smear, there may be some contact bleeding or spotting over a few days. The result usually takes a few days to a week as the smear is processed in a laboratory using a computerised liquid-based technique. When you receive the results, then you will have to have a colposcopy.

Will I need a colposcopy?

Yes, abnormal smears require a colposcopy. This is a simple procedure that can be done in a clinic setting using a magnifying lens called a colposcope. The timing of the colposcopy from the result of the smear depends on the severity of the result and whether there is the presence of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). For instance, mild dyskaryosis with HPV should have a colposcopy within six weeks. Those with moderate or severe dyskaryosis with HPV should have a colposcopy within two weeks.

How long does it take for abnormal cells to turn into cancer?

It can take approximately somewhere between five and ten years if untreated.



Do not hesitate to book an appointment with a gynaecologist for a smear test. 

By Mr Stewart Disu
Obstetrics & gynaecology

Mr Stewart Disu is an award-winning laparoscopic surgeonconsultant obstetrician and gynaecologist based in north London. He specialises in minimally-invasive surgery, endometriosis and pelvic pain alongside ovarian cysts, fibroids and hysterectomy surgery. He also is a consultant in laparoscopic myomectomy. He privately practises at BMI The Clementine Churchill Hospital and for the NHS at London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust.

Mr Disu is a multi-skilled surgeon. He is an accredited endometriosis surgeon who co-leads the London North West University Healthcare's National Endometriosis Centre, has been a qualified, accredited colposcopist since 2006 and is the lead robotic gynaecological surgeon at both Northwick Park and St Mark's Hospitals. 

Mr Disu's educational history, alongside his colposcopy qualification with the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (BSCCP (Cert)), reflects his equally impressive career achievements. He completed his robotic training in Strasbourg, France, has an MBBS from the University of Ilorin in Nigeria, and is an accredited member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). 

Furthermore, Mr Disu completed his post-graduate training in advanced laparoscopic surgery at St.Mary’s Hospital in London, in 2011. He has passed on his knowledge to peers and post-graduate students via leading various courses on gynaecological topics including acute and chronic pelvic pain, adolescent gynaecology and endometriosis. 

Mr Disu's research has featured in various peer-reviewed journals including the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. He is an active member of various professional organisations including the RCOG, the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) and the British Fertility Society (BFS) alongside the BSCCP.

Mr Disu's was decorated in various Academic Excellence Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and was also awarded the BSCCP Colposcopy Award for Presentation in 2010.    

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