Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean I Have Cancer?

Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean I Have Cancer?

The word “abnormal” almost never precedes good positive news from your doctor, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad news either. Sometimes, abnormal means “neutral” or “needs more testing.” This is the case for abnormal Pap smears.

Our team of board-certified gynecologists at The Association for Women’s Health Care helps you stay on track with the preventive gynecological care you need, including Pap smears every three years starting when you’re 21. A Pap smear examines your cervix for unusual cell changes. 

You can visit our offices in Northbrook, Illinois, and The Loop in Chicago for Pap smears and any additional tests you need. Our team answers all of your questions and updates you on every test result in a timely fashion.

The purpose of a Pap smear

Any gynecologist worth visiting can tell you the importance of getting regular Pap smears. These simple tests, which happen during your routine gynecology visits, are screenings for cervical cancer. 

Screenings check for specific diseases before they cause any symptoms and help doctors detect cancer in the early stages before it has the chance to spread. Cervical cancer is no exception to the rule: Cancers are most treatable before they metastasize. 

Why your Pap smear is abnormal

If a Pap smear result is abnormal, it means your gynecologist has detected unusual cells on your cervix during the test. Cell changes in the cervix aren’t always cancerous. Sometimes they’re precancerous. In other cases, cell changes are extremely mild and go away on their own.

Most cell changes on the cervix come from human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus transmitted during sexual intercourse. In fact, almost all cases of cervical cancer can be linked to HPV. 

Fortunately, an HPV vaccine exists to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer and other conditions linked to the virus like genital warts. 

What comes next

If you have an abnormal Pap smear, you can trust our team to support you and keep you informed through the steps that come next. We may recommend a colposcopy, which is a test that gives us a closer look at your cervix. 

A colposcopy is comfortable and doesn’t usually cause any pain. During a colposcopy, we view your cervix through a magnifying instrument called a colposcope. We can use several strategies to confirm if your cell changes are mild, precancerous, or cancerous:

Acetic acid wash

We brush your cervix with acetic acid, a chemical that highlights abnormal cells by turning them white. 

Color filters

Color filters attachable to the colposcope help us see tiny blood vessels that are harder to detect without the filters on. Changes in blood vessels on the cervix are a common result of precancerous changes. 

Cervical biopsy

A cervical biopsy involves collecting a sample of tissue directly from your cervix so we can test the cells in a lab. 

We inform you of our findings as soon as possible so you don’t have to wait around worrying. If we detect cervical cancer or precancerous changes, we can provide the necessary treatment or refer you for further specialist care. 

When it’s time for your next Pap smear, simply call us at The Association for Women’s Health Care office nearest you. Otherwise, book an appointment online anytime.

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