If you’re sexually active, it’s crucial that you get a Pap smear and vaginal exam on a regular basis. Also called a Pap test, this preventive screening is used to find cancerous cells in your cervix.
A normal Pap result is when you have zero abnormal cells in the collection. However, if your result comes back abnormal, note that it doesn’t always mean you have cervical cancer.
At New England Women’s Healthcare, our team is here to help you decipher your Pap results. If your results come back abnormal, one of our eight expert providers goes over the next steps in your care.
Understanding a Pap smear
A Pap smear is a screening tool our team uses to evaluate your cervical tissues for precancerous or cancerous cells. Our team performs the test during your routine pelvic exam and screening.
During your vaginal exam, our team performs a Pap test by using a tiny brush to scrape cells from your cervix. They typically do this after your internal exam. You may feel some cramping while they scrape the cells, but it shouldn’t hurt.
Our provider collects the cells and places them into a vial, which is sent off to a lab. Your cells are evaluated at the lab, and the results are relayed back to our team.
Pap smear results are either normal or abnormal. A normal result means the lab found only ordinary cells in the sample. An abnormal Pap smear means you have some cells that have changes in them. This doesn’t always indicate cervical cancer.
Abnormal results: What do they mean?
Aside from cervical cancer, numerous conditions and circumstances can lead to abnormal Pap smear results.
The most common type of abnormal cell found in Pap smears is known as atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASC-US). These cells look different from other cells, but they don’t indicate cancer or HPV.
You can end up with these abnormal cervical cells from an infection, uterine polyps, or hormonal changes. Our team provides HPV testing to determine if the abnormal cells came from the human papillomavirus.
Several other atypical cells can show up in an abnormal Pap smear. Some of these findings indicate an HPV infection, while others are signs of cancer.
The lab sends the findings back to our team with the specific type of cells found in your abnormal Pap smear. If the cells are anything other than ASC-US, our providers want you to come in for additional testing. It’s important to rule out cervical cancer from an abnormal Pap smear.
Your next steps
At your return appointment, one of our providers explains your results in detail and discusses your next steps. In most cases, it’s a procedure called a colposcopy.
A colposcopy is a test our team performs similarly to a Pap test. However, with this specific test, our team uses a specialized magnifying lens to see the abnormal cells in extreme detail. Once they find the area of cells, our team takes a small biopsy to send off for cancer testing.
The colposcopy is a minor procedure that should hurt for only a second during the biopsy. You may go home after you’ve had the colposcopy, and you can expect the results in about a week.
Sometimes, all you need after an abnormal Pap smear is close monitoring. If your results come back with ASC-US cells, our team may suggest monitoring the changes and having a new Pap smear in six months or a year.
In many cases, the abnormal cells resolve on their own without treatment. However, if your test result is suspicious, our team provides more advanced testing to give you a definitive diagnosis.
If you’re in need of an exam or Pap smear, call our team today or use our online feature to make an appointment at one of our offices in Wilmington or Woburn, Massachusetts.