Getting a regular Pap smear is an essential preventive screening for cervical cancer. So learning your test results were abnormal can be incredibly scary. But abnormal results rarely mean you have cervical cancer.
At Cornerstone MD in Dallas, TX, Board-certified OB/GYN Carolyn Riley, MD, and her team understand how worrisome it can be to have abnormal test results, especially when it comes to your reproductive health. Here’s how we monitor your cervical health and what you can expect if you have abnormal Pap results.
Understanding your Pap smear results
When you have a Pap smear, we’re looking for specific changes in your cervical cells. Your cervix is at the very bottom of your uterus right above your vagina. A Pap smear looks for irregularities in this tissue that could turn into cancer in the future.
If we don’t find anything unusual, your Pap test is normal (negative). If you have an abnormal (positive) Pap smear, it means we found irregularities.
What causes abnormal Pap smear results
One of the most common causes of abnormal Pap results is the human papillomavirus (HPV). This common sexually transmitted disease is a known cause of cervical cancer. With regular Pap testing, we can monitor your cervical cells — even if you have HPV — and treat any changes early on before they become serious or life-threatening.
Other causes of abnormal Pap smear results include:
- Yeast or bacterial infections
- Vaginal inflammation or irritation
- Sexual transmitted diseases, like chlamydia or gonorrhea
- Normal changes to the cervix because of the aging process
It’s also possible to get a “false positive” Pap result. The best way to avoid a false positive test is by avoiding certain things in the days leading up to your Pap smear, including tampons, sexual intercourse, and feminine products, including creams, suppositories, and sprays.
What to expect when you have abnormal Pap smear results
Dr. Riley and her team may recommend a variety of options, depending on the results of your Pap smear. For example, low-grade results indicate a small abnormality in some cervical cells. Results that are high grade, however, suggest significantly more irregularities that could become cancerous in the future.
Based on this information, we might suggest doing another Pap smear or a colposcopy, or removing the abnormal cervical cells.
A second Pap smear
We might recommend another Pap smear to reevaluate your cells. In many cases, we perform a second Pap smear in combination with HPV testing to look for signs of infection.
A colposcopy allows us to look at your cervix under magnification. This procedure provides a more detailed look at your cervix so we can identify the areas with abnormal tissue. We can also take tissue samples during a colposcopy for additional analysis.
Removing abnormal cells
If your abnormal cells could become cancerous, we often recommend removing them. We use either cryosurgery or loop electrosurgical excision (LEEP). Cryosurgery relies on freezing the irregular cells, while a LEEP uses a thin electrical wire to cut tissue away. This is an in-office procedure.
For more on Pap smears and what your test results mean, contact us to schedule an appointment.