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Encouraging Facts About an Abnormal Pap Smear

Encouraging Facts About an Abnormal Pap Smear

Pelvic exams are a normal part of a woman’s life, and a Pap smear (or Pap test) is a common facet of that exam. Statistics from 2018 show that 66% of women over 18 have had at least one Pap smear within the past three years, and there were 14.3 million visits to medical offices for Pap smears in that year alone.

A Pap test is used to help determine whether or not you have cervical cancer, so an abnormal test could be alarming. However, abnormal test results might not be as bad as you think. 

Women in the Beverly Hills, California, area looking to understand the results of their pelvic exams can find help from Dr. Shawn Veiseh and his dedicated medical team at Shawn Veiseh, M.D. To help you understand your results, let’s look at how Pap smears work, how to interpret the results, and what an abnormal test actually means.

How a Pap smear work

An exam that doctors recommend women get starting as early as age 21 (with testing happening every three years from ages 21-65), a Pap smear is done by collecting cells from your cervix, the lower, narrow area of your uterus at the top of your vagina. 

The process only takes a few minutes while you lay on a table with your feet placed in stirrups. An instrument called a speculum is used to keep the walls of your vagina apart so your cervix can be clearly seen. Cells from your cervix are removed to be examined for risk of cervical cancer.

In addition to cervical cancer, a Pap smear can also be used to assess the risk of precancerous cells in your cervix (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) and human papillomavirus (HPV), a condition that increases your chances of cervical cancer.

Understanding your results

Before you go in for the test, you should avoid using tampons, vaginal creams, suppositories, powders, spray, or other menstrual products, and you should avoid sex for two days. Once the test is done, your results will come in one of three forms

Getting results can take up to three weeks, and if you need to have your test repeated or something unusual is found, you will likely have to go back in. Once there is a concrete diagnosis, you don’t have to worry about another Pap test for three years (unless you have specific conditions that require more frequent exams or are old enough to not require them).

What an abnormal result actually means

Some important facts about abnormal results include:

Abnormal doesn’t mean cancer

It’s important to understand that getting an abnormal result doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. It mainly just indicates there’s something there that can’t be explained and needs to be followed up. 

It’s most likely that an abnormal reading will be followed up by a colposcopy, a procedure using a specialized lighted microscope that magnifies your vaginal lining to further examine unusual results for any chances of cervical cancer or any of the other conditions previously listed.

Unusual results can actually be helpful

If it turns out you have precancerous cells, there’s a 95% chance they won’t ever develop into cancer. And if there’s evidence of HPV, the cells can be removed right then and there. 

Some basic examples of reasons for abnormal readings include inflammation, infection, herpes, trichomoniasis, and HPV, which all have treatment options. So getting an abnormal test can actually help you treat something you may not have known you had.

Early detection means better treatment

Anytime we catch a condition in its early stages, it means we have a better chance of treating it. Even cancer has a much better outlook if it can be caught early enough to remove before it creates more problems down the line.

Abnormal Pap smear results aren’t the end of the world, so if it ever happens to you, don’t panic. It could be nothing, or an entirely different condition altogether. Regardless of the result, however, we can help. Make an appointment at Shawn Veiseh, M.D. to schedule your exam. Call our office or book online today.

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