My Pap Smear Results Were Abnormal — Now What?

Papanicolaou (Pap) smears, also called Pap tests, are simple, routine gynecological tests that you should have every three years, depending on your age and lifestyle. A Pap smear lets your doctor check for abnormal squamous cells on the opening of your uterus, an area known as the cervix. 

Abnormal squamous cells could be a sign of dysplasia (precancerous changes) or even cervical cancer.

If the lab detects abnormal cells, you need to undergo more tests. At OBGYN Care of Houston, we understand how upsetting it can be to get the news that your Pap smear was positive for abnormal cells. But we also know that following up on abnormal results as soon as possible means that you get the answers you need to stay healthy.

What “abnormal results” mean

Pap smears are designed to look for the type of cell changes that are a sign of cervical cancer, but cancer isn’t the only reason your results may be abnormal. If you’ve had Pap tests every three years, in fact, the chance of your having cancer is low, because prior tests would have shown abnormalities, too. That’s why regular Pap smears are so important: They let us find abnormal changes early and treat them right away, if necessary.

The types of cells that need more tests

The most common cause of cervical cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). The kinds of changes that may occur as a result of HPV infection include:

Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS)

If the squamous cells on your cervix don’t look like typical, healthy squamous cells, your OB/GYN brushes your cervix with a special liquid that can identify HPV infection. If she detects HPV, she orders further tests. If no HPV can be seen, you come in for a follow-up Pap smear in a few months. 

If you’re in perimenopause or menopause, your OB/GYN may prescribe estrogen cream. If the changes are the result of a hormonal imbalance, the estrogen cream clears them up.

Squamous intraepithelial lesion

Labs often identify low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions on Pap smears.  Also known as mild dysplasia, these changes are a sign of HPV infection.  

Mild dysplasia generally clears up on its own, but could turn into cancer. Your OB/GYN follows up with other tests to be sure the cells don’t continue to grow or spread.

High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions could quickly turn to cancer. Your OB/GYN orders a colposcopy, which allows her to take a closer look at your cervix and remove a small amount of tissue for a biopsy, which she sends to the lab for evaluation.

Atypical glandular cells

Glandular cells make mucus on your cervix and in your uterus. If they’re abnormal, your OB/GYN performs a colposcopy with biopsy.

Squamous cell cancer or adenocarcinoma 

Both of these types of abnormal cells are cancerous. Your OB/GYN performs a colposcopy, takes a biopsy, and sends the sample to the lab for further testing.

Early detection means early treatment

Even if the cells on your cervix are cancerous, catching them early with a Pap smear means that they can be removed. We may also recommend you to an oncologist so you can get the specialized care you need.

Regular Pap smears every three years helps us find early changes before they become cancerous. Call us today for a Pap smear or to follow up on an abnormal Pap smear, or book an appointment online

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