My Pap Smear Results Were Abnormal—Now What?

Pap smears, or Pap tests, are an effective way to help detect cervical cancer. And it has helped in the prevention and treatment of cervical cancer for the past 40 years, leading to a steady reduction of cervical cancer deaths. Getting the test is an essential part of a woman’s life, but even if you don’t have cervical cancer, you can get abnormal results.

For patients needing help with getting Pap smears or discussing the results, Dr. Staci McHale and New Beginnings OB-GYN have been helping patients in the Las Vegas, NV area with these and many other OB-GYN services.

What is considered an abnormal result?

Pap smears are designed to look for abnormalities in the cells of the cervix, including cancer. And while many women get normal results (simply meaning no evidence of abnormal cells) inconclusive tests can result in what is known as ASC-US, or atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance. It could be absolutely nothing, but it usually means more information is needed to rule out things like cancer.

Actual abnormal cells (cervical dysplasia) can be either low grade abnormal (slightly abnormal and may not be a risk) or high grade abnormal (look very different from regular cervical cells and could become cancerous).

What can cause them?

Inconclusive or abnormal results can happen for many reasons. They don’t automatically mean ASC-US or abnormal cells and most abnormal results don’t mean cancer. They can be caused by inflammation, infection, herpes, trichomoniasis, or HPV. Abnormal results can also be caused by a false-positive or false-negative result.

Whatever the cause, abnormal results are common and out of three million abnormal results each year, less than 1% came back with a cancer diagnosis.

What happens after an abnormal result?

A repeat test is most typical afterward, to get a more conclusive result. If the results are still inconclusive or abnormal, then a specialist might try the following:

Colposcopy

This is a closer examination of the cervix with a magnifying device. A cone biopsy, which removes a small piece of tissue may also be done during the procedure for analysis.

Endometrial sampling

This is a method of collecting a sample of the endometrium or the lining of the uterus. This can also be helpful in identifying evidence of endometrial cancer.

HPV test

This test will check for traces of HPV (human papillomavirus) cells linked to cervical cancer. HPV infections can cause cancer, but it may take years to develop.

Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery may be used if there is a reason to remove abnormal cervical cells. This would be done using a LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) treatment, which is a small electrified wire loop to remove abnormal tissue. 

Abnormal Pap smear results don’t often mean cancer but should be taken care of to be certain. Make an appointment with Dr. McHale and New Beginnings OB-GYN to help better understand abnormal results and get proper treatment.

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