What Happens after Abnormal Pap Smear Results Come In?
Women's health may seem like a roller coaster with having to go for a Pap smear, breast exam, and mammograms on a schedule.
Well woman care will consist of these tests being routinely preformed throughout her entire life. Every time one of these tests is preformed, even though they are routine, most women will worry about the results until they are in.
There are several things to keep in mind though, one being abnormal pap smear results. There are several factors why pap smear results can come back abnormal.
Causes for an Abnormal Pap smear
When a pap smear is done the cervix is scraped with a plastic tool, taking off a layer of cells. This sample is then sent off to be tested for abnormalities. Since this test is not a diagnostic test, it cannot tell you if the results are a false positive, or if you truly have something wrong.
There are several things that can affect the results of a pap smear, including:
- Feminine Products
- Sexual Activity
- Vaginal Infections
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Pre-Cancerous Cells
When going for your Well Woman's care check-up you should refrain from sexual activity for around 24 hours before this test. As sperm can hang around the cervix, it could alter the test results.
If you have not been sexually active around the time of your pap smear then there is still no reason to panic.
Anything from douching, yeast infections, herpes, HPV (both cancerous and non-cancerous types) can also cause abnormal pap results. If you get a result that shows abnormal cells, your doctor will call you in for another appointment and discuss the next steps with you. It is important to remember that a pap smear is not a diagnostic test, but only screens you for abnormal cells.
Learning about the next steps will make it easier to discuss with your women's health physician what needs to be done next, and help you ask any questions you need answered.
What Happens Next
Since around one in ten pap smears shows abnormal cells, further testing may be required to determine why your test has shown abnormal cells.
You should prepare a list of all products you've used before having a pap smear. If you believe you have an STD or a vaginal infection talk to your GYN about your suspicions.
You can be tested for these before proceeding onto further invasive tests, possibly preventing the need for them to be run.
There are three different tests are run if no other cause for abnormal cells can be found and run in the following order:
- Cone Biopsy
- LEEP Procedure
A colposcopy is a very simple procedure where the cervix is painted with a solution that is made out of vinegar. This solution helps any areas of abnormal tissue look different to the doctor, so they can take a small biopsy if necessary.
The biopsy is sent to a pathologist to determine what the abnormality in the tissue is.
Cryosurgery is sometimes preformed after a biopsy, each individual GYN preforming the procedures will often decide on how to proceed. This procedure freezes any tissue that the doctor has found that is not normal, and removes it. Cone biopsies and the LEEP procedure are often confused with each other.
During a cone biopsy, your GYN will take a triangular piece of cervix including the abnormal tissue to be tested by a pathologist. The LEEP procedure on the other hand uses a small loop shaped piece of equipment to remove the affected area. The cone biopsy and LEEP procedures carry the most short and long term complications out of all.
Bleeding and watery discharge are normal for women who have had these procedures done.
While damage and scarring to the cervix can cause long term damage, this doesn't always happen. If the woman wishes to become pregnant later she can have problems conceiving and staying pregnant. The cervix can be weak and open early (incompetent cervix), causing pre-term labor, early rupturing of membranes and miscarriage. While no woman wants to have problems trying to have children, or while she is pregnant, having several talks with your GYN can help set your nerves to rest.
Women's health is a very difficult field to work in because of these issues, so being prepared and knowing about your body can prepare you.
Remember, Well Woman care visits need to be scheduled every 2 years.
If you've had at least 3 consecutive Pap smear tests come back negative, tests are only required every 3 years.
Of course if your gynecologist has different guidelines then you should follow them. Understanding the next steps after an abnormal pap smear can help you relax and not panic.
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