One of the reasons we recommend observing a routine exam appointments with your OB/GYN is to make sure you have pap smears on a regular basis. The majority of women undergo a lifetime (or at least an adult lifetime) of pap smears that never result in a call-back. However, there are the occasions where a pap smear comes back “abnormal,” which will trigger a phone call from your OB/GYN requesting that you come in for further testing. This can be incredibly scary but it’s important that you understand abnormal pap smears are not necessarily a cause for concern. A further pap smear and/or exam may determine that everything is fine.
However, if you do get a call or message that abnormal cells were identified, it is imperative that you get in touch with your OB/GYN as soon as possible in case the Pap smear does indicate an infection or cancerous cells. The sooner you address the issue the better in terms of treatment.
What Does My Abnormal Pap Smear Results Mean For Me?
An abnormal pap smear indicates that a lab technician found cervical cells that didn’t look quite normal. Approximately 10% of all pap smears result in an abnormal reading that is the result of infection, pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. There are a number of things that can cause these results, including:
- Inflammation or some type of infection
- Recent sexual activity (you aren’t supposed to have sex for 24-48 hours before the pap test)
- Trichomoniasis – a common STD that is often asymptomatic but can cause inflammation and irritation that affects the way your cervical cells appear under a microscope.
- Menstrual blood – try to avoid scheduling a pap smear if you will be on your period. If you are on your period, call and reschedule as menstrual blood can trigger an abnormal result.
- HPV (human papilloma virus) – another STD that can affect the way cervical cells appear to lab techs, it’s carried by nearly 60% of all women.
- Dysplasia – abnormal cells that are an indicator of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.
If your abnormal pap smear does indicate that something is wrong, your gynecologist will want to do further testing to see what’s going on. If you have a formerly undiagnosed STD or infection, you’ll want to treat it as soon as possible so you aren’t at risk for further side effects and so you can ensure your partner(s) is treated if necessary. You don’t want to be spreading an STD unknowingly to others!
Depending on your medical history – including that of your family – and your lifestyle, your OB/GYN will schedule you for one of the following:
A repeat pap smear. To rule out the possibility of abnormal cells without further medical cause or an error on the lab’s part, she may just want you to have another pap smear. You will go through the same procedure as before – where a cervical culture is captured and sent to the lab – and will wait for the results to come back.
A colposcopy. This procedure is a little more in-depth than a pap smear. For a colposcopy, we brush acetic acid (you may catch a slight vinegar-like whiff) over the cervical tissue and look at it with a special light and lens. The acid allows abnormal cells to become more visible. If we see abnormal cells, we will proceed with a biopsy.
Biopsy or endocervical curettage. For this procedure, an abnormal tissue area, as seen by the colposcopy, will be removed and sent to the lab for further analysis. It may be necessary to remove tissue from more than one site. You’ll feel a slight sting and the areas may bleed slightly, but we’ll apply a solution that helps to stop the bleeding.
If your secondary testing requires a biopsy, you may have slight bleeding and/or red/brown tinged discharge for a few days afterwards as well a minor cramping. You can take an over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate any related discomfort.
In most cases, it will take about one to two weeks for the results of your biopsy to come back. Keep in mind that most biopsies result in the news that you are perfectly healthy and that your abnormal pap results were a fluke! Your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment if necessary, especially if any treatment will be required.
If it has been more than three years since you last had a pap smear, schedule one today with Overlake OB/GYN.