A Pap smear is an important test that can help check for abnormalities that may be linked to cervical cancer. Women between the ages of 21 and 65 should have a Pap test performed at least once every three years as long as the results are normal. But, what happens when the results aren’t what you expected? What do you do if you have an abnormal Pap smear?
What does it mean if you have an abnormal Pap smear?
First of all, don’t panic. Just because your Pap smear results come back abnormal, that doesn’t mean there’s something terribly wrong. An abnormal result typically means there’s an abnormality in the cells of your cervix. This does not, by any means, point to cervical cancer. Most of the time, it’s related to a virus such as human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer in its most severe form, is also the most common STD.
Are abnormal Pap smears always HPV?
An abnormal Pap test does not always indicate HPV. Sometimes, results point to a condition known as atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance, or ASCUS. These cells typically yield no need for concern. A follow-up test will be performed by your doctor to see if HPV is present.
Abnormal Pap smears can also indicate the presence of atypical glandular cells. These cells create cervical mucus and may or may not need further testing. If an abnormal Pap smear shows squamous intraepithelial lesions, monitoring is necessary because these cells may or may not be pre-cancerous, depending upon whether they’re low-grade or high-grade.
If your Pap results point to adenocarcinoma cells, then you’ll need to have a colposcopy and biopsy, as these are cancerous cells.
What to do if you have an abnormal Pap smear
The cell abnormalities that cause abnormal Pap smears can be mild or moderate. In rare cases, they are severe. Your doctor will review the results of an abnormal Pap before deciding whether further tests are required. For example, you may be asked to do yet another Pap smear. Or, a colposcopy may be the next step.
A colposcopy allows for a better look inside the cervix and indicates whether small samples, or biopsies, of the cervix or vagina are needed for further testing. In many cases, this is the extent of the treatment needed. If the biopsy confirms the presence of abnormal cells, your doctor may recommend that you have Pap tests conducted more often to monitor the health of your cells. Or, they may recommend a freezing of the cervix, known as cryosurgery.
In more extreme cases, you might need laser removal of a small area, or a procedure known as LEEP. A LEEP procedure removes problem areas of the cervix with a little electrical wire. You are numbed during a LEEP procedure and may experience mild cramping after.
Whatever the case may be, know that you are doing the right thing by taking care of your vaginal health. Seek out expert advice as needed. at OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, we can help you understand abnormal Pap smears and the range of treatment options available should you need them. Contact us to request an appointment.