I Had an Abnormal Pap Smear. Now What?

Though a relatively quick and simple test, the Pap smear is far from any woman’s favorite health screening exam. But it’s an important test that’s saved countless lives.

You may temporarily breathe a sigh of relief after your Pap smear, until you get the call that your results are positive or abnormal. Now what?

At the office of Lena Speck Hopkins, MD, in Harlingen, Texas, we consider the Pap smear one of the most important health screening tests for women, which is why we’ve made it one of our top services. 

We know the fear and anxiety our patients feel when we tell them their results are abnormal. Here, we want to explain what that means and what happens next.

About those Pap smears

Pap smears screen for cervical cancer. Before Pap smears became a regular part of a woman’s wellness exam, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in women. 

We’ve learned a lot about cervical cancer over the past 40 years. Pap smears used to be an annual screening test, but we now know that cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer, so we only need to repeat the screening every three years. 

We know when you’re told your Pap smear results are positive or abnormal, the first thing that pops into your head is cervical cancer. But an abnormal Pap smear doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. 

What your abnormal results mean

An abnormal Pap smear means the pathologists at the lab found abnormal cells in your specimen. There are many conditions that may cause abnormal cells to grow in your cervix.

In most women, these abnormal cells develop from human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). There are many strains of HPV that cause a wide range of symptoms, but certain strains increase your risk of cervical cancer. 

An infection, hormonal changes, and various health problems may also cause an abnormal Pap smear. 

What happens next

To find out what’s going on, we perform a colposcopy following a positive Pap test. During a colposcopy, we use a special magnifying device to closely evaluate your cervix. We then apply a solution to your cervical tissue, which helps us find tissue abnormalities.

We biopsy any cervical tissue that appears abnormal and send the samples to the lab for further testing. The results of this biopsy determines what we do next. If the lab says your tissue samples show low-grade cervical changes, it’s highly unlikely you have cervical cancer. In this case we may recommend more frequent Pap smears to closely monitor the tissue.

If the biopsy indicates you have moderate- to high-grade tissue changes, then it may indicate you’re at higher risk of developing cervical cancer. To reduce your risk, we perform various procedures to destroy or remove the abnormal tissue, such as a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) or a cone biopsy. 

We also recommend more frequent Pap smears following these procedures. 

Rarely does an abnormal Pap smear mean you have cervical cancer. But you may need additional tests to see what’s going on. 

To schedule your Pap smear, call our office or book your visit through the online scheduler today. 

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