The results of your Pap test are in and they’re deemed abnormal, but there’s no reason to panic. Irregular findings are fairly common. Here’s what happens next.
A Pap smear is an incredibly valuable screening tool for women’s health that we conduct on a regular basis as part of our wellness exams. The goal of the Pap smear is to detect cervical cells that show changes that may lead to cancer, which provides us with valuable time to intervene early to prevent this from happening.
At our practice, gynecologist Amy Bruner, MD, and our team believe that preventive care is the best way to stay on top of your health, and a regular Pap smear is one of our best tools. If your results come back showing irregular results, we want to emphasize that there’s usually no need for immediate concern. In fact, the Pap test is doing its job, allowing us to monitor you more closely.
Here’s what you need to know about irregular Pap results.
At its core, the Pap smear is designed to catch the early stages of developing cervical cancer, which affects about 13,000 women in the United States each year. This relatively low number (when compared to the over 50 million pap smears done in the U.S. each year) should give you an idea about the efficacy of the Pap test, because since its widespread use, the incidence of cervical cancer has dropped considerably. In fact, cervical cancer used to be one of the leading causes of cancer death among American women, which hasn’t been the case for the last 15 years thanks to the Pap smear.
A Pap smear is a simple swab or brush to collect a sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. The presence of abnormal cells usually indicates the presence of a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. This sexually transmitted disease is so common that nearly all sexually active women are infected at some point in their lives, and many aren’t even aware of the development as their bodies resolve the problem on their own.
There are more than 150 different strains of HPV, and only a few can lead to more serious problems like genital warts and cancer.
When your results show irregular results, it means that there are abnormal cell changes on your cervix, and we need to determine the next steps.
Following irregular Pap results
The course of action we take after a Pap test that shows abnormal cell changes depends on several factors, including:
- Whether you have been tested for and carry HPV
- Previous Pap test results
- Your age
If it’s the first time that your Pap test shows mildly irregular results, and your HPV screen is negative, we typically take a wait-and-see approach and test you more regularly, which may include repeating an HPV test. Many times, your next results may come back normal as your body fights off the infection on its own.
If your tests continues to show abnormal cell changes, or your HPV screen continues to be positive, we likely investigate further with a colposcopy. During this procedure, we use a specialized microscope to take a closer look at your cervix, and we may take a biopsy, which is a small piece of your cervical tissue, to evaluate any abnormal appearing areas. We then assess this tissue for any evidence of precancerous or cancerous cells.
In the unlikely event that we find precancerous or cancerous cells, rest assured that we can take steps to mitigate the findings. In other words, the Pap test is doing its job admirably, giving us time to take the necessary steps to prevent cancer from taking hold.If you have more questions about your Pap test results, please don’t hesitate to give us a call or use our convenient online scheduling tool to set up an appointment.