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What does a false negative Pap test mean?

When a Pap test fails to detect an existing abnormality, the result is referred to as a false negative. Several factors can contribute to a Pap test reporting a false negative:
  • when irregular cells are located high in the cervical canal and are difficult to access under normal Pap test procedures
  • when menstrual blood masks abnormal cells, making them not visible to the cytotechnologist
  • an inadequate sample -- when not enough cells were collected during the Pap test
  • human error, where the person reviewing the slide misinterpreted abnormal cells as normal

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.