Pap smears are one of the most effective ways to screen the health of your cervix and detect any changes long before they turn into something more serious. As part of his routine gynecological exam, Dr. Daniel B. Channell, gynecologist at the Channell Wellness & Aesthetics in Rancho Cucamonga, California, will perform this simple test to determine whether further examination or intervention may be needed.
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear refers to a routine test to detect any abnormal cells on your cervix that may indicate the potential for, or presence of, cervical cancer. The test is painless and entails a simple swab of your cervix, which is usually performed during your annual gynecological or pelvic exam.
As a screening aid, the Pap test is an extremely valuable tool for catching issues before they become major problems.
If a test comes back showing the presence of abnormal cells, there is no immediate cause for alarm. It simply means that some cells on your cervix do not appear normal and may require additional testing or monitoring.
What does an abnormal result mean?
In an overwhelming majority of Pap tests, the cause for an abnormal result is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. Most sexually active women will have some form of HPV during their lives, and symptoms can range from non-existent to the appearance of genital warts. There are over 100 types of HPV and many women are not even aware they have the virus, which usually resolves itself on its own. In rare cases, HPV can lead to cervical cancer, which is what makes the Pap test such a valuable diagnostic tool in catching and treating the precancerous conditions.
Outside of HPV, there are other factors may contribute to your abnormal result, such as:
- An infection or inflammation caused by bacteria
- A yeast infection
What happens after an abnormal Pap smear?
If you have an abnormal Pap test result, Dr. Channell will determine an appropriate follow-up plan based on:
- Your medical history
- Whether the presence of HPV has already been confirmed
- Family history
If you’ve already had an abnormal Pap test result due to the presence of HPV, Dr. Channell may choose to simply wait and retest. Often, cell changes on the cervix caused by HPV resolve themselves.
If you are not sure whether you have HPV, a follow-up HPV test, which is much like the Pap test, will help in detecting the virus.
If you’ve had several abnormal tests in a row, you will most likely have a colposcopy, which allows the doctor to get a closer look at your cervix and take a tissue sample for further testing. The colposcopy is an in-office procedure and takes only minutes to perform.