The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, with new infections affecting about 14 million people every year. Sexually transmitted HPV is also the cause of cervical cancer, a condition that a Pap smear detects. Dele Ogunleye, MD, FACOG, and Lisa Emm, MD, FACOG, at Advanced Women’s Healthcare encourage women to get routine Pap smears because it’s the only way to catch cervical changes before they turn cancerous. To schedule an appointment or learn more about abnormal Pap smears, call the office in Bloomington, Illinois, or schedule an appointment online.
A Pap smear screens for cervical cancer that the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes. There are many different types of HPV, but high-risk HPV strains that are responsible for cervical cancer spread through sexual contact with a partner who has an HPV infection.
HPV infections are very common, but most of the time, your immune system suppresses the virus and clears it out of your body, even if it’s a cancer-causing strain. In some women, however, the virus manages to invade healthy cells in the cervix, where it continues to cause abnormal cell growth.
The affected cells gradually go through changes, first becoming precancerous, then over the years turning into cancer. A Pap smear detects these changes, alerting you to the growing danger while there’s time to treat the problem and prevent the cancer from spreading.
When you get a Pap smear at Advanced Women’s Healthcare, your doctor gently removes cells from your cervix and sends them to a lab, where they’re evaluated under a microscope. If all the cells in your sample are normal, your Pap smear is negative.
If the lab technician observes abnormal cells in your sample, the cells are graded based on their severity. When you have an abnormal Pap smear, the test results may report:
The actual report is more specific and technical, but this gives you an idea of the way your Pap results are interpreted.
The next step depends on the grade of your cervical cells. If the cells are slightly abnormal but the cause is undetermined, your Advanced Women’s Healthcare doctor may recommend getting an HPV test, or waiting a few months then repeating your Pap smear. By waiting a short time, your body may finish clearing away the abnormal cells, and your next Pap may be normal.
When your first Pap test results are moderate to severe, or when a follow-up Pap smear shows that mild changes haven’t improved, your doctor performs a colposcopy, which is a close-up visual examination of your cervix using magnification. During the colposcopy, your doctor can see abnormal growth and take a biopsy for a more in-depth evaluation of the tissues.
Several procedures effectively remove abnormal cervical cells:
To schedule a Pap smear or if you have a recent abnormal Pap smear result and need treatment, call Advanced Women’s Healthcare or schedule an appointment online.