Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean I Have Cancer?

Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Mean I Have Cancer?

Pap smears have saved the lives of countless women over the last century. These simple, fast tests identify early changes in the cells that line your cervix to reduce the chance that they develop into cervical cancer.

Most of the time, when you get a Pap smear test, your results come back “negative,” which is a positive thing! Negative means that there are no abnormal cells that demand further evaluation.

Sometimes, however, your Pap smear is “positive,” or “abnormal.” However, a positive Pap smear or abnormal results doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer. 

At Mian OB/GYN & Associates in Silver Spring, Maryland, Dr. Rafiq Mian recommends regular Pap smears as part of your well-woman examinations. A Pap smear, like a mammogram, is a way of keeping tabs on your reproductive health to safeguard your overall health.

But what if your Pap smear is abnormal? What does that mean and what should you do?

All results are important

Whether your Pap smear is normal or abnormal, the fact that you had the test in the first place means that you’ve taken charge of your health. If you get an abnormal result, don’t panic. A positive Pap smear is simply an indication that you need more tests.

How we follow up abnormal Pap smears

The first thing we do when we get an abnormal Pap smear result is to determine when and how that test should be followed up. If you’re postmenopausal, for instance, have a history of normal results, and have a normal human papillomavirus (HPV) test, we may only advise that you return for another Pap smear in three years

For younger women, those who are at high risk for cancer, and those with a previous cancer, we may first recommend another Pap smear to verify the results. We may then go on to (or even start with) a series of other tests.

Pap tests often have false positives if you’ve inserted anything into your vagina in the days before your test. So, young women who’ve had sex or used tampons or feminine products before their Pap smear might do well with a follow-up Pap alone. 

What happens after colposcopy

If we’ve recommended you for other types of tests, such as colposcopy, that means we want to take a closer look at your cervix to better identify the areas that have abnormal cells and tissue. If we see abnormal tissue, we may perform a biopsy and send it to a lab for further evaluation.

If your cervix has evidence of mild dysplasia (precancerous changes), we may simply ask you to come in for a series of Pap tests. Cervical dysplasia tends to go away on its own.

If the lab identifies more advanced precancerous cells or actual cancers from your biopsy, you then undergo treatment to remove the abnormal tissue. Procedures may include:

In very severe cases, we may recommend full or partial hysterectomy, which removes your cervix or your entire uterus.

Don’t fear abnormal Pap results

Cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer. If we’ve identified precancerous changes at an early stage, chances are it will never develop into cancer or, if cancer is present, it may be curable. When you have abnormal results, you don’t gain anything by avoiding follow-up tests. But, if you don’t pay attention to your results, you may have much to lose.

Stay healthy and cancer-free by scheduling your Pap smear by calling us or using our online form to book an appointment today.

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