What is a Pap test?
A Pap test is a screening test which shows changes in the cells of the cervix before cancer actually occurs. (The cervix is the opening to the uterus.)When a Pap test is done, some cells from the cervix are taken for examination. This is done during a routine pelvic exam.
What does an Abnormal Pap Test mean?
If you have an abnormal pap test, don’t worry; it doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. It just means that some cells have changed and you need to be re-tested.
If your pap test shows cell changes or abnormalities, you may be referred to a specialist (gynecologist) for more testing or a colposcopy and treatment if necessary.
What is a colposcopy?
A colposcopy is a test used to examine the cervix and identify abnormal cells on the cervix. It takes about 15 minutes. This will show what treatment is needed. An instrument called a colposcope is used to magnify cervical cells. No anesthetic is required for this test. Slight discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps, may be felt. A low backache after the test may last for a few days. This is due to the position during the examination and to the fact that the procedure takes longer that the usual pelvic exam. Test results may be expected in about two weeks and will be explained by the specialist.
Treatment choices (depend on the results of the colposcopy)
- Cone biopsy - the removal of abnormal tissue from the cervix.
- Cryotherapy - a special solution is used to freeze the cervix and to destroy the abnormal cells. A watery vaginal discharge occurs and may last about three weeks following cryotherapy.
- Laser treatment - a laser beam is used to destroy thin layers of abnormal cells on the cervix. There may be some discomfort associated with this procedure. Bloody vaginal discharge resembling a menstrual period may result.
A colposcopy and the treatment for an abnormal Pap test should not affect your ability to have children.
What Can Cause an Abnormal Result?
- Sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Blood, pus or mucous in the test sample
- Having sexual intercourse or douching 24 hours before the test
What are the risk factors for cancer of the cervix?
- sexual intercourse before the age of 18
- sexual intercourse with more than one partner
- sexually transmitted infections such as Human Papillomavirus (HPV or genital warts), herpes
- daughters of women who took DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy (in the years 1940-1971).
The specialist will recommend a repeat Pap test in 4 to 6 months. This follow-up is very important and will indicate if your cervical cells have returned to normal, or if abnormal cells are still present.