Ask the Doctor
January 21, 2014
Can a pap-smear miss detection?

Dear Doc,

My mother has been getting her pap-smears done annually by her doctor and was called last week after her most recent test, and told that she has suspicious changes requiring possible surgery. How is this possible? She never missed a pap-smear for the past 10 years.{{more}}


Dear Lucy,

There are scenarios whereby a poor smear can be taken and thus misses the cells which are developing into a cancer or indeed you can have aggressive cancers that grow rapidly over a short period of time.

Irrespective of the reason, your mother’s case strengthens the notion that it is important that pap-smears be done annually and that persons don’t miss or skip any year. We cannot predict when an aggressive cancer develops or when a poor smear is taken, so we can have faith in changes being found before full-fledge cancers develop.

What is re-assuring about your mother’s smear, is that it shows “suspicious changes”. This is not bad news as it is why we do pap-smears; that is to find changes that can lead to cancer and stop them in their tracts. Your doctor is on the ball and should be encouraged in his or her good work.


SVG Cancer Society,

P.O. Box 709, Kingstown.

Email: [email protected]