What to Expect if You Have an Abnormal Pap Smear

You may not look forward to your annual well-check examination, but you schedule one regularly because it’s important to catch gynecological abnormalities early. Most results come back fine, but sometimes a Pap smear analysis indicates an abnormality with your cervical cells.

Mark P. Schumacher, MD provides compassionate obstetrical and gynecological care for women in Reno, Nevada. He understands that any abnormal results may cause you to worry, so he walks you through the next steps that will lead to a better understanding of your body’s medical needs.

Possible causes of an abnormal Pap smear

The purpose of a Pap smear is to test for signs of cervical cancer. If results come back abnormal, this means that the laboratory detected unusual cervical cells. However, this does not mean that you definitely have cervical cancer.

The most common cause of an abnormal Pap smear is human papillomavirus (HPV). Although HPV is the biggest risk factor of cervical cancer, it doesn’t always mean you have cancerous cells. Other causes of an abnormal Pap smear include:

If you have an unsatisfactory sample, Dr. Schumacher may recommend that you only need a repeat Pap smear.

For a more comprehensive follow-up to abnormal results, he’ll likely request an HPV test, schedule a colposcopy with possible biopsy, or take an endometrial sample. If any of these procedures identifies precancerous or cancerous cells, he’ll work with you to develop a plan for removing the abnormal tissue.

HPV test

There are several types of HPV. It’s a common virus that is passed through sexual contact and often presents with few to no symptoms and goes away on its own. However, HPV can cause your cervical cells to change. High-risk HPV infections may lead to cervical cancer, if left untreated. For this procedure, Dr. Schumacher takes a sample of cervical cells to have specifically tested for the more high-risk types of HPV infections.

Colposcopy with cervical biopsy

A colposcopy helps Dr. Schumacher more closely examine your cervical cells. Just like during a Pap smear, you’ll wear a hospital gown and lie down with your feet in stirrups. He inserts a speculum to open your vagina and applies a vinegar solution to your cervix. This solution helps abnormal cells stand out as he examines your cervix using a magnifying device.

If Dr. Schumacher identifies abnormal cells, he takes a cervical biopsy by removing a sample of tissue.

Endometrial sampling

Some abnormal Pap smears show atypical glandular cells. Glandular cells are present in the endometrium and the inner canal of the cervix and can indicate precancerous or cancerous tissue. Dr. Schumacher collects samples from the endometrium for more definitive testing.

Treating abnormal cells

If the HPV test, colposcopy, and biopsy, or endometrial sample, identify high-risk cells, Dr. Schumacher can treat them in two ways: excisional treatment and ablative treatment.

During an excisional treatment, Dr. Schumacher removes tissue from the cervix. This tissue can be sent to a laboratory for further study. Types of excisional procedures include:

An ablative treatment destroys the abnormal cells. Types of ablative procedures include:

It’s important to follow the guidelines for cervical cancer screening and Dr. Schumacher’s recommendations so any issues can be identified and treated. Remember, an abnormal Pap smear does not necessarily mean that you have precancerous or cancerous cervical tissue.

If you need a Pap smear or are worried about abnormal results, you can rely on Dr. Schumacher to provide comprehensive and compassionate care. Get in touch with him by phone or using the convenient online contact form.

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