An abnormal Pap smear can evoke serious fear. After all, this test is an essential part of a woman’s health exam and key to detecting cervical cancer. However, abnormal results don’t equal cancer. Instead, it means there were abnormal cells in your sample, requiring additional attention.
At Scottsdale Private Physicians, LLC, our team understands how worrisome test results can be for our patients. That’s why we carefully explain what they mean and what you can expect moving forward. If you have an abnormal Pap smear, here’s what you should know.
When you have a Pap test, we collect cells from your cervix — the area in the female reproductive system at the top of the vaginal canal that’s vulnerable to cancer. This test looks for cellular changes that could indicate a cancer risk. The entire process can be a bit uncomfortable but is fairly quick and typically done at the same time as a pelvic exam.
We recommend having a Pap smear regularly if you have a female reproductive system, even if you don’t identify as a woman or engage in sexual activity. Generally speaking, they should take place every three years from age 21-65. However, we make personalized preventive care recommendations on frequency based on your individual risks, like a history of abnormal Pap smears, a weakened immune system, or human papillomavirus (HPV).
More than 95% of cervical cancers develop because of HPV, the most common viral reproductive tract infection.
Again, we know it’s scary to hear the word “abnormal” when it involves your Pap smear. However, this test result can mean several things.
While Pap tests play a key role in early cervical cancer detection, they aren’t always accurate depending on circumstances. Certain factors that can lead to an abnormal Pap smear include:
An abnormal Pap smear can also indicate cellular changes in the cervix related to HPV or precancerous cervical cells and, very rarely, cervical cancer itself. But take a deep breath — the chances that you have cervical cancer are quite low; abnormal results are most often due to HPV infections.
As a result, it’s important not to panic when your results are abnormal. Instead, we perform additional tests to identify the specific cause.
If your results indicate unclear or small abnormal changes, we often start by repeating the test.
When your test indicates more significant abnormalities or if a second Pap shows more serious changes, we usually recommend more powerful diagnostic testing, such as:
Performing these tests can help us determine the best treatment strategy. Sometimes, that means close observation because unhealthy cells may go away on their own. In most cases, this involves more frequent Pap smears.
We usually recommend a screening process to carefully monitor your cervix moving forward if you have an abnormal Pap result. This allows us to closely watch your cervical cells and prevent cancerous growth in the area.
Have you had a Pap smear lately? Contact Scottsdale Private Physicians, LLC, in Scottsdale, Arizona, to learn more about our women’s health services today.