Getting a Pap smear can be an uncomfortable (although generally not painful) experience by itself, but receiving an abnormal result can cause major stress and uncertainty.
When the results of a Pap smear aren’t ideal, it doesn’t automatically mean you have cervical cancer or that your health is in jeopardy. It simply means we need to explore a little further with additional testing.
Our experts at The Association for Women’s Health Care work with you to figure out why you have an abnormal Pap smear and take the necessary steps to address any underlying health concerns.
At our offices in The Loop in Chicago and Northbrook, Illinois, we provide Pap smears, which are screenings for cervical cancer. We tell you how often you need to get them based on your age, your risk factors, and the results of previous tests.
When your Pap smear results come back as abnormal, here’s what comes next:
We perform a Pap smear during an otherwise typical pelvic examination, which you get as a form of preventive care. We collect a small sample of cells from your cervix using a spatula-like device, then examine those cells more closely in a lab setting.
Normal Pap smear results show no signs of cellular changes in the sample taken from your cervix. If this is the result you get, you can go about your day as usual and have peace of mind until your next pelvic exam and Pap smear.
Abnormal results indicate that the cells in the sample are atypical in some way. They could be precancerous or cancerous, or they could indicate other unusual cell changes. In any case, your next step following an abnormal Pap smear result is to get what’s called a colposcopy.
A colposcopy is a method of closely examining your cervix that gives us more insight into the cell changes. During the test, you lay on an examination table much like you do during a pelvic exam. And just as during a pelvic exam, we widen your vaginal opening with a speculum
Then we flush the cells of your cervix with a vinegar solution, which helps highlight the cells so they’re easier to see. A magnifying instrument called a colposcope provides a clearer view of your cervix.
After a brief examination through the colposcope, we might take a biopsy, which is a way of collecting a tissue sample from the cervix for further lab testing.
These two steps, the colposcopy and biopsy, take just 5-10 minutes to complete. The colposcope never enters or touches your body, so that part of the process is completely pain-free. You might feel a pinch during the biopsy.
We explain what happens next based on our findings. If the results are still abnormal, you might need further testing or treatment right away. Otherwise, we might recommend a wait-and-see approach and schedule another exam.
In some cases, the biopsy itself is the treatment, as it removes the abnormal cells from the surface of your cervix. Other possible procedures that might come next are:
These treatments remove abnormal cells and help prevent you from developing cervical cancer.
To find out when to get your next Pap smear and more about what abnormal results can mean, schedule an appointment over the phone or online at either of our Chicago-area offices today.