If your pap smear results show abnormalities, it can feel disconcerting. Approximately 5% of all pap smears show abnormalities. As the average woman has at least 15 pap smears from age 21 to 65, many women will experience at least one abnormal pap smear in their lifetime. While concerning, many of these abnormal pap smears are common and will not lead to concerning consequences.
To help ease your mind regarding abnormal pap smears, here is some helpful information about the causes of abnormal pap smears and what happens after an abnormal pap smear result.
What Causes Abnormal Pap Smears?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of abnormal pap smears. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that consists of more than 200 related viruses. These HPV viruses range from low-risk to high-risk. Low-risk types of HPV are known as non-oncogenic, meaning they cause warts but not cancer. High-risk HPV strains are oncogenic, meaning they are cancer-causing. Most HPV strains are low-risk, but there are 14 high-risk strains that cause cancer.
Although people with HPV are often asymptomatic, warts are the main HPV symptom. While these warts can occur on various areas of the body, such as your hands, feet, face or genitals, pap smears detect genital HPV warts in the cervix, vulva or vagina. There are over 40 different types of genital HPV. In most cases, HPV either goes away on its own or is easily treatable.
If your doctor rules out HPV, other possible causes of abnormal pap smears include:
- Cervical dysplasia
- Cervical cancer
- Other STDs, such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea or herpes
- Vaginal infections, including bacterial or yeast infections
- Post-menopause hormonal changes
- Harmless cell changes, which can occur after recent menstruation, sexual intercourse, tampon use or taking a bath
What Happens After an Abnormal Pap Smear?
After an abnormal pap smear, several things may occur. Ultimately, the course of action your doctor recommends will depend on the type of abnormal cells they discover in the pap smear.
For this reason, doctors often suggest colposcopy after an abnormal pap smear. Colposcopy is similar to a pap smear, except doctors use a magnifying lens to examine the abnormal cells closer. They then swipe the area with acetic acid to highlight the abnormal cells. Colposcopy helps doctors determine the type of abnormal cells present in the cervix and how serious they are.
If your doctor thinks the cells could be precancerous, they will perform a biopsy. During a biopsy, the specialist removes a small amount of the abnormal cell tissue for testing.
The lab test will determine whether the cellular changes or low-risk or high-risk. If the abnormal cells are low-risk, treatment may not be necessary. However, if they are high-risk or low-risk with added concerns, some treatment options for an abnormal pap smear include the Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) or another biopsy to eradicate the tissue.
Call Us Today
If you have received an abnormal pap smear result, our certified midwives at Midwifery at Rose can help! Give us a call today or request an appointment to find out your treatment options and the services we provide to put your pap smear concerns at ease.