One of the routine tests that are performed during an annual exam is a pap smear.
The purpose of a pap smear is to check the health of the cervix.
The long-term goal of pap smears is to make sure a patient never develops cervical cancer.
What Are the Possible Pap Smear Results?
There is a range of results that can show on the pap smear.
The two ends of the results are normal or cervical cancer. But are also many steps in between.
It is helpful for women to understand that there are multiple gradings of abnormality, on the way from completely normal to cervical cancer.
The ranking and the wording of these steps doesn’t matter as much to patients, but it means something for physicians.
If we’re able to catch any of these problems early on, then it’s something that in most cases we can easily treat, and even prevent problems getting to the point of cervical cancer.
What Happens If My Pap Smear Results Are Abnormal?
If a woman has an abnormal pap smear, they should expect a phone call from the doctor that they need something called a colposcopy.
Colposcopy and Biopsies
A colposcopy is basically looking at the cervix under a microscope.
When we do this, we’re able to look for certain patterns on the cervix that are indicators for us that there may be an additional problem. If we see those indicators on the colposcopy, then we perform biopsies of the cervix itself.
Oftentimes, we’ll do a colposcopy, and it’ll look completely normal, and we won’t even do a biopsy. In that case, we most likely will suggest that a woman come back in six months for her pap smear instead of one year.
The colposcopy and the biopsies are still diagnostic and not treatment.
If we do find that there is moderate dysplasia – which is a word we use for the specific cellular changes, the abnormal cellular changes – if we do find there’s moderate dysplasia or worse, then we will suggest something called a LEEP procedure.
The LEEP procedure is basically a larger biopsy where we’re excising the abnormal cell and letting normal cells replace them.
The Importance of Pap Smears
While a Pap Smear is not the most pleasant thing to do, the benefits are definitely there.
If a woman is diligent about coming in for her annual exams, then she should never get cervical cancer because we will be treating any potential problems way before it gets to that point.