Deaths from cervical cancer have declined significantly, thanks in part to Pap tests, which can detect cervical cancer at the earliest stages and even detect abnormal cervical cells before they have a chance to become cancer.
Receiving an abnormal Pap result can cause a lot of fear and anxiety, but it should bring you some comfort to know that most abnormal Pap tests are not related to cervical cancer.
Board-certified gynecologist Lillian Schapiro, MD, FACOG, and the women’s health specialists at Ideal Gynecology understand the distress an abnormal Pap smear can cause. If you’re thinking What now?, keep reading to learn about some steps you can take after receiving an abnormal Pap test.
Pap test guidelines
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women start getting regular Pap smears at the age of 21. Here are some guidelines to know:
- Every three years, women between the ages of 21 and 29 should get a Pap test.
- Every five years, women between the ages of 30 and 65 should get a Pap test paired with an HPV test.
- Some women, such as those with a history of cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, or a weaker immune system, may require more frequent testing.
If you’re in the third category, talk to Dr. Schapiro about how often you should test.
Abnormal Pap smear: What now?
If you receive an abnormal Pap test, take the following steps.
Know the most common reasons for abnormal Pap results
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of an abnormal Pap result. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Other STIs that can cause an irregular Pap smear are:
- Genital warts
- Other infections
Additionally, general inflammation can lead to an irregular Pap test. For most women, infections are the most common reason for an abnormal Pap result.
Discuss your results with the doctor
Whether you received your results through your online patient portal or in another manner, contacting Dr. Schapiro is the first step to take. There are different types of abnormal Pap results, and your physician will discuss what your specific results mean and the next steps for you to take.
Schedule and attend a follow-up visit
Schedule a follow-up visit to discuss the next steps after getting an abnormal Pap test. The next steps will depend entirely on the nature of your abnormal Pap result. Dr. Schapiro may order STD testing as well as perform a colposcopy, which is similar to a Pap test.
During a colposcopy, Dr. Schapiro looks at your cervix using a magnifying glass to get a better view of the abnormal cells. A digital colposcopy system called DYSIS is commonly used to see the exact location.
Once Dr. Schapiro identifies the abnormal cells, she will take a sample (biopsy) for testing. You’ll feel nothing more than a slight pinch. Your cells are sent to a lab for analysis, and once the results are in, you can schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss the next steps.
Treatment options for abnormal Pap smear results
Once Dr. Schapiro receives the results of your colposcopy, she will discuss what to do next. Usually if the cervical changes are low-grade, the next step is to watch and wait. However, if the changes are moderate-to-high grade, Dr. Schapiro may discuss procedures to remove the abnormal tissue. The Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) is a common procedure performed for this purpose.
We’re here to discuss your Pap smear results so that you understand what your results mean and how we can address it. Reach out to our Atlanta or McDonough office to schedule an in-person or telehealth visit with Dr. Schapiro today.