What is a Pap test and why do I need one?
A Pap test, commonly referred to as a Pap smear, is a simple screening test that helps detect abnormal cells on a woman’s cervix. A Pap test allows for early diagnosis and treatment so that the abnormal cells do not become cervical cancer. While for many women, Pap tests are no longer needed every year, they still play a vital role in a complete health program.
What does an abnormal Pap test mean?
An abnormal Pap test means that cell changes were found on your cervix. However, this rarely means that you have cervical cancer. The majority of cell changes are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). The cell changes may be classified as minor or serious. Many minor cell changes, also called low-grade, will resolve on their own over time. Serious cell changes, also called high-grade, may need to be removed so that they do not develop into cancer.
What follow-up will I need to have after an abnormal Pap?
If you have an abnormal Pap test, your health care provider will determine any necessary follow-up based on your age and the severity of the abnormal cells. Some of the follow-up testing options include:
- HPV testing – your health care provider may be able to run a HPV test on the cells that were collected at your Pap test in order to determine if the cells have HPV.
- Colposcopy (with or without a biopsy) – your health care provider will look at your cervix through a magnifying device called a colposcope. If abnormal cells are found, your health care provider may remove a small piece of tissue from your cervix so it can be further examined. This is called a biopsy. Colposcopies can be performed in a health care provider’s office.
If the results of the follow-up testing indicate precancerous cell changes, you may need treatment to remove the abnormal cells. You will then see your health care provider for follow-up visits to ensure all the abnormal cells are gone and that they have not returned.