You may think of a Pap smear as just a quick swab that happens during a regular OB/GYN appointment, but when the results come back “abnormal,” the screening takes on a whole new importance.
Pap smears give John Monroe, MD and the team at Healthy Life Family Medicine important information about the health of your cervix and whether you’re at risk of developing cervical cancer.
Know that an abnormal Pap result is not a diagnosis of cervical cancer – it simply means that irregular cells were detected on your cervix, and they need a little further investigation. Dr. Monroe can put your mind at ease as you move through the next treatment steps.
First off – what is an “abnormal” result?
A Pap smear is conducted during a routine pelvic exam. Dr. Monroe swabs your cervix to collect a sampling of cells that are then sent to a laboratory for further analysis. If the test comes back “negative,” it means no traces of abnormal cells were detected on the reading of your cells.
An “abnormal” result shouldn’t make you alarmed, however. Dr. Monroe will simply ask you to potentially undergo a few additional screenings and, potentially, a minor procedure, to make your cervix is clear.
In many cases, an abnormal Pap result is due to inflammation, recent sexual intercourse, a just-ended period, pregnancy, a yeast infection, or aging. Dr. Monroe checks for a yeast infection and may simply ask that you repeat your Pap smear in a few months to see if the irregular cells resolve on their own.
More in-depth analysis: A colposcopy
A colposcopy gives Dr. Monroe the chance to see the cells on your cervix a little more clearly. During the procedure, you lie on an exam table just as you would for a pelvic exam, and the doctor uses a device called a colposcope to magnify his view of your cervix. He can see if there are tissue changes or something else that requires a biopsy, or tissue sample. A colposcopy doesn’t require surgery or anesthesia, but may result in slight post-procedure spotting if a biopsy was performed.
The results of your colposcopy help Dr. Monroe determine any next steps needed.
Removal of suspicious cells: A Loop electrosurgical excision procedure
A LEEP, or loop electrosurgical excision procedure, is recommended when a biopsy reveals you do have precancerous cells on the cervix. During this procedure, we can remove suspicious cells and tissue from the cervix and vaginal area with a wire that’s been heated by an electrical current.
The wire cuts away a very thin layer of abnormal tissue, and healthy tissue regrows in its place. If you have a fair amount of abnormal tissue, a sample of the tissue removed during the LEEP procedure may be sent for further analysis at a lab. Further analysis can help the doctor diagnose the type of irregular cells. In many cases, however, LEEP completes your treatment plan.
Another possible next step: A cone biopsy
A cone biopsy, as the name suggests, involves removing a cone-shaped wedge of tissue from your cervix. Dr. Monroe may recommend this procedure when the abnormal tissue sits high in your cervical canal. He also removes a small amount of normal tissue that surrounds any suspicious cells to make sure there’s no spread. Cone biopsies are intended for diagnosis and for treatment. A cone biopsy can help determine the extent of any precancerous or cancerous cells.
A Pap smear is an important part of your regular wellness visits. Follow-up on abnormal results is essential too, as it helps prevent the development of full-blown cervical cancer.
Call Healthy Life Family Medicine, or schedule your Pap smear and pelvic exam online today.