You went for your annual exam at the gyno, and you’re sitting at your desk on a Tuesday morning. Your cellphone rings, and you see it’s your doctor’s office. “That’s weird,” you think as you pick up the phone. It’s the medical assistant on the other line calling to tell you your pap smear came back abnormal. You don’t hear much after that, as you enter full panic mode. “What does that mean?!”
We’re here to break it down for you. Most of the time, it’s no big deal. Remain calm. Women get abnormal pap smear results all the time. More than 20% of women report having at least one abnormal test come back after a routine exam.
What is a Pap Smear?
You know that once a year or so, you go to the gynecologist’s office and have a pap smear done. It’s part of maintaining your sexual wellness. But what exactly is a pap smear, and what are they looking for? A pap smear is a medical test that is used to detect early signs of cervical cancer in women.
Remember what we said, though, stay calm.
During a pap smear, your gynecologist swabs your cervix to get a small sample of cells that they send off to the lab for testing. They do this because the cells on your cervix begin to change if cervical cancer is present, and it aids in early detection. However, according to experts, an abnormal pap smear results in a cancer diagnosis less than 1% of the time. Cue the sigh of relief.
What Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean?
An abnormal pap smear means that the test showed abnormal cells on your cervix, though likely not cancer. The most common cause of abnormal cells is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is transmitted sexually via skin-to-skin contact, but again, don’t panic. It’s reported that nearly 80% of sexually active adults will test positive for it at one time or another.
Most of the time, your body will clear itself of HPV on its own, and you won’t require further treatment. Your doctor may want to monitor you more closely for the next year or so. Don’t worry, but do follow your doctor’s recommendations. They may order follow-up tests to get a closer look at the cells to make sure you’re in the clear.
If your doctor orders follow-up tests, it’s crucial that you schedule appointments to have them completed. They may order a cervical biopsy or a colposcopy. While these terms sound scary, they are ways for your gynecologist to get a closer look at the cells they found during your pap smear. They’re non-invasive, quick tests, with results that come back within a week or two.
There’s no recovery time, nothing to be afraid of, and they are an important extra step in getting ahead of any possible medical conditions. Make sure you come in with all your questions so that the doctor can offer a bit of peace of mind. Your health comes first and foremost, above anything else. While it’s common to be scared and unsure of what to expect, these procedures are routine and will offer you peace of mind.