The notion of receiving an abnormal Pap test sounds daunting, but the reality is that the whole point of the test is to pinpoint and address abnormalities – and, according to a report on Self.com, oftentimes those abnormalities are…perfectly normal?

“It generates a lot of anxiety and concern, but the reality is there are a lot of abnormal Pap smears that are not cancer,” explains Nicole S. Nevadunsky, M.D., associate professor in the division of gynecologic oncology at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care.

Dr. Nevadunsky goes on to explain that abnormal Pap tests often indicate the presence of the HPV virus, which may be causing some anomaly in the cells of the cervix. HPV does not always have adverse effects, is not always linked to cancer, and is in fact the most commonly sexually transmitted virus in the country.

The follow up steps to an abnormal Pap test can be varied, and they depend on a host of other factors, including both the specifics of the test’s outcome and the patient’s age. According to the article, keeping up with prescribed follow up Paps and other tests and keeping an open line of communication with your doctor are both important components in keeping tabs on your reproductive and sexual health.

Read more about what to expect following an abnormal Pap test here.