My Pap Smear Results Were Abnormal: Now What?
Cervical cancer rates have declined sharply over the past two decades. Some of the thanks goes to getting regular pap smears. Cervical cancer can be found at its earliest stages when it’s easier to treat and most likely to be cured. Pap smears can also detect abnormal changes to the cervix before cancer even occurs, stopping it in its tracks and preventing cervical cancer altogether.
In most cases pap smear results are normal and you can go on about your life without giving it much thought, until your next schedule pap tests. Sometimes pap results are abnormal, which requires follow-up. Here we discuss what you should know if your results come back abnormal.
The first thing you should know is that abnormal pap smears are common and there’s no need to panic. When you have your pap smear, the doctor collects cells from your cervix. The pap exam is a very sensitive test that detects abnormal changes in cervical cells. It’s used to screen for cervical cancer, and it is very good at detecting changes as early as possible.
If you’ve kept up with your regular pap tests, the chances of developing cervical cancer are low. This is because pap tests can detect changes in cervical cells before they have a chance to develop into cancer. Women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer typically have not had a pap smear within the five years prior to diagnosis.
What does it mean when my pap results are abnormal?
Receiving an abnormal pap result doesn’t mean you have cancer. An abnormal result means that some of the cells of your cervix have undergone changes. Most women with an abnormal pap result do not have cancer.
Inflammation and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause abnormal pap results. In fact HPV is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. If you have HPV and your pap results are abnormal, discuss it at your appointment.
Understanding your results
Leading gynecologist Dr. Lori Davidson will guide you through your pap results to ensure you understand what they mean and recommend the next steps to take. Abnormal cells are categorized as low-grade or high-grade.
Cervical cells that have only mildly changed are considered low-grade. On the other hand, high-grade cells look much less like normal cells and have an increased risk of developing into cancer. Dr. Davidson will explain the specifics of your results
If you receive abnormal pap results, know that our team will provide guidance and support throughout the next steps. What you do next will depend on your individual situation. Dr. Davidson may schedule a repeat test or may recommend a colposcopy. This procedure allows Dr. Davidson to take a closer look at your cervix under a microscope. During the colposcopy, a small piece of tissue is removed for analysis.
If the abnormal cells are low-grade, Dr. Davidson may recommend a ‘watch and wait’ approach, since low-grade cells are less likely to go on to develop into cancer. If the abnormal cells are high-grade, Dr. Davidson may recommend removing them. Abnormal cells can be destroyed in various ways, including freezing and a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP).
During cryosurgery the doctor uses a freezing gas called liquid nitrogen to destroy the abnormal cells. LEEP is a safe and effective procedure that removes the questionable cells from your cervix by using a tiny wire loop with an electrical current. The procedure is quick, taking about 10 minutes to complete. Once the abnormal cells are destroyed, the body can replace them with healthy cells.
Pap screenings are an important way to prevent cervical cancer. To learn more about abnormal pap tests and your options moving forward, contact our Greenwood, Indiana, office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Davidson.