What is an unsatisfactory Pap test result?

If you’re told that your Pap test result was ‘unsatisfactory’, it means that the sample of your cells wasn’t able to be tested properly, or that the test may not have been collected or prepared properly. In NSW, about 2% of Pap tests results are unsatisfactory.

The most common reasons for an unsatisfactory result are:

  • the cells from your cervix could not be seen clearly because of blood, inflammation or mucous
  • there weren’t enough cells from the swab to do the test correctly
  • the test was not prepared properly
  • the slide broke.

If any of these problems led to your unsatisfactory result, you’ll be asked to have another Pap test in 6 to 12 weeks.

This allows enough time for the cells on your cervix to renew, ready for another sample.

Endocervical cells and the transformation zone

Your results may mention endocervical cells, or lack of, in the sample. Endocervical cells come from the area of your cervix called the transformation zone, where cancer is more likely to develop. There’s no reason to worry if they appear in your Pap test results, or don’t appear. 

You might need to take another Pap test but your doctor, nurse or community health worker will confirm this with you. If endocervical cells are not seen on your Pap test, and you have been having regular test without abnormal results, and you have no symptoms (such as unexplained bleeding), you do not need another one before the next test in two years.

Diagram identifying cells of the cervix and the transformation zone

(Click image to enlarge in new window)

NCSP image of cells in cervix

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