It’s easy to assume the worst when you have an abnormal result for your Pap smear. But it’s important to stop and take a breath — this can occur for several reasons, and it doesn’t automatically mean that you have cervical cancer.
There are a lot of reasons people worry about their Pap test, which is the primary screening method for cervical cancer. And that form of cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer among women. However, it’s crucial to remember that this screening tool looks for cellular changes — it can’t diagnose cancer.
Dr. Daniel Esteves and his team use Pap smears as a routine screening during well woman exams as well as when issues arise, such as abnormal bleeding. Here, we offer insight into Pap smears and what your next steps are if your results are abnormal.
Pap smear basics
This screening only takes a few moments to perform, and it occurs during a routine pelvic exam. Your provider uses a special swab that collects cells from the surface of your cervix, which is the opening of your uterus. The process isn’t painful, and the swab never enters the uterus.
The collected cells go to a lab to get cultured and examined under a microscope. Our team typically receives the results in about a week, and then we share them with you.
While Pap tests are critical in early detection of potential issues, it’s important to note that they aren’t definitive. In fact, they can sometimes yield a false result. This is why medical groups recommend regular screenings to increase the chances that subtle indications associated with cancer get caught as early as possible.
Generally, the recommended guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mean you can expect to have a Pap test every three years. However, depending on your health history, Dr. Esteves could suggest more frequent screenings.
Having abnormal Pap test results
It’s completely understandable to feel alarmed if you learn you had abnormal Pap results. However, there’s good news — most abnormal results aren’t cancer-related. Instead, abnormal results are due to other issues, such as:
- Hormonal changes
- Yeast infections
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections
While your abnormal results can be scary, they usually just mean you need another examination. Then, based on your history and other factors, Dr. Esteves could suggest an additional Pap smear or an exam called a colposcopy.
A colposcopy uses a light to see inside your vagina, allowing Dr. Esteves to examine your cervix for abnormal areas of tissue. During this screening, Dr. Esteves might take additional cell or tissue samples (biopsy) to evaluate further.
In some instances, Dr. Esteves could recommend other tests or exams, like a transvaginal ultrasound. These screenings can rule out cancer and help identify the cause of an abnormal Pap result, especially if you have other symptoms, like abnormal bleeding.
Dr. Esteves might suggest that you get another Pap smear in a year, as opposed to waiting the usual three years between tests.
When was your last Pap test?
Few women look forward to a Pap smear, but the test only takes a few minutes and can provide you with a lifetime of better health and greater peace of mind. Don’t put off this important screening.
Schedule a visit with Daniel Esteves, MD, in Lawrenceville, Georgia, by calling 770-676-5878 or requesting an appointment online today.