Making Sense of “Abnormal” Pap Smear Results
So, you’ve recently visited your OB/GYN and had a Pap smear. Now that your results are in, your doctor uses the term “abnormal.” What does that mean? Here is your need-to-know guide on abnormal Pap smears and what you can expect from your gynecologist.
Understanding the Pap Test
In case you’re not familiar, a Pap smear is a type of screening that checks for any precancerous cells that could lead to cervical cancer. Most often administered by your OB/GYN, a pelvic exam is completed along with the Pap smear to check for any abnormalities. During this procedure, cells are taken from your cervix, around the top of the vaginal area, and are then examined by a lab. The exam is typically quick and painless.
Women over the age of 21 are encouraged to get screened every three years—even if they have never been sexually active. Women ages 21-65 should have a Pap smear every three years unless instructed otherwise by their doctor.
The Results Are In. Now What?
After this test is completed and results are collected, your OB/GYN will most likely contact you with your results. Either your doctor will let you know that everything appeared fine, or they may tell you they found abnormalities. If this is the case, here is some follow-up information they may walk you through:
- Whether the cells they found were cancerous or precancerous—both are treatable in most cases. Your doctor will let you know what next steps you need to take and if treatment is necessary.
- What to do if you have precancerous cells—most types are treatable and, typically, early detection prevents cancer from ever forming. Your doctor will keep a close watch to ensure cancer doesn’t form.
- What to do if you have cervical cancer. Treatments will vary depending on age, the type and stage of the cancer, and your plans to have kids. Your doctor will walk you through each step.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer can be caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is contracted via sexual intercourse or by family history. But, most women who get HPV do not get cervical cancer. If you have HPV, there are options to prevent and treat abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer. Once the disease is contracted, cancer cells may begin forming in the tissues of the cervix. Those who have a family history of cervical cancer may be at risk regardless of their sexual history.
Pap smears are vital to your wellness. And since typically there are no obvious symptoms of cervical cancer, routine check-ups are the safest way to catch any forming cancer cells early!