Matters of reproductive health and wellness can be the source of anxiety. Receiving word from a gynecologist that the results of a recent pap smear came back abnormal can be scary. Not only does the word “abnormal” make it sound as if something is wrong, but since pap smears screen for serious conditions like HPV and cervical cancer, it’s only natural to fear that you may be facing a serious female health concern.
However, it’s important to remember that abnormal pap results are actually very common and are not necessarily a sign of anything wrong. An abnormal result doesn’t mean that you have cancer. In fact, only a small percentage of women who receive an abnormal result actually are diagnosed with cervical cancer. An abnormal result just means that there has been a change to some cervical cells. An abnormal pap smear can be caused by minor conditions like inflammation or certain infections.
The most common reason for an abnormal pap smear result is ASCUS which occurs when cells don’t exactly look normal. ASCUS paps are considered slightly abnormal results. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, normal, noncancerous cervical cells are present in about 75% of women with ASCUS results. In some cases, receiving an ASCUS pap can result from a poor sample. This is common for women who recently had intercourse or used certain feminine hygiene products.
As far as what to do after receiving an abnormal result from your pap smear, that depends on your unique situation. We typically recommend that you request a repeat test in the near future. For women under 30 who receive an abnormal pap result, the lab will reflexively check for HPV. If this comes back negative, then the pap is considered normal. If it’s positive, then the woman will require a colposcopy. During a colposcopy, a microscope is used to inspect the cervix for abnormal areas. If needed, abnormal cells can be removed using loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). This can prevent abnormal cells from ever becoming cancerous. For women over 30 who receive routine tests for HPV, a negative HPV result is also indicates a normal pap. If the HPV result is positive, a colposcopy will be needed. Since cervical cancer can’t be diagnosed via a pap test, you may require a biopsy in order to rule out that possibility.
So in short, if you ever receive abnormal results from a pap smear, try not to panic. Odds are that you’re going to be just fine. But to be safe, make a follow-up appointment with your board-certified gynecologist and take whatever necessary steps are recommended to help you take control of your reproductive health. To request a pap smear appointment, please contact Dr. Kristine Gould at Gynecology Associates of Gwinnett today. And follow us on social media for even more tips, news, and info in our upcoming health & wellness events.