A Pap smear is one of the most effective tools an OBGYN has to be able to detect the early signs of cervical cancer. During this quick procedure, your doctor will collect cells from the cervix, which will then be tested to check for any abnormal changes in the cells. Most women begin getting Pap smears by the time they reach 21 years old. If your Pap smear results came back abnormal, relax. We know you may be concerned but there are several reasons your test results may have come back abnormal.
What can cause abnormal Pap smear results?
While there are many causes, you might be surprised to learn the something as simple as a cervical or vaginal infection could cause enough changes to the cervical cells to produce an abnormal Pap. In this case we may either monitor the infection to see if it goes away on its own or we may decide to provide you with medication. Other causes of an abnormal Pap smear include:
- Herpes (HSV-2)
- Recent sexual activity
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Dysplasia (abnormal cells; can be pre-cancerous)
It’s important to specifically address HPV, which is an STD that has over 100 different strains. The body will clear some strains of HPV over time while others may cause genital warts or eventually lead to cervical cancer. If we find unusual-looking cells during your test then we may recommend undergoing an HPV test.
How is an abnormal Pap smear treated?
The only thing Pap smear results tell your gynecologist is that there are abnormal cells within the cervix. This is only a test; this is not a diagnosis. What this means is that your gynecologist will need to perform a further evaluation that could include another Pap smear, a colposcopy (a simple procedure that allows your OBGYN to look into the cervix using a microscope) or a biopsy (to remove and test cervical tissue). This is something your doctor will discuss with you beforehand.
An abnormal Pap test is actually fairly common and most of the time it is not serious. If we suspect that infection is the cause we may need to do further testing to diagnose inflammation, a yeast infection, trichomoniasis, or herpes. Some women may require a repeat Pap smear if their results came back “unsatisfactory” due to recent sexual activity or using vaginal douches prior to the test. Women who have an abnormal Pap result will need to come back in a few months for additional testing.
Your annual women’s checkup is an important part of maintaining your health. Is it time for your appointment? Call your gynecologist today.