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Pap Test

What Are Pap Smear Abnormalities?

The Pap smear is a test done during a pelvic examination. Cells from the cervix, which is the opening of the uterus, are removed and checked at a laboratory. To do this test, the health care provider places a small tool called a speculum into the vagina. This tool holds open the vaginal walls and lets the health care provider see the cervix and vagina. The health care provider gently rubs a swab or spatula around and inside the cervix to get a sample. The sample is smeared onto a glass slide and sent for testing. The Pap smear test shows how the female hormone estrogen affects the cervix and vagina. It also shows whether the cervix has an infection or abnormal cells.

What Causes Pap Smear Abnormalities?

An abnormal Pap smear may be caused by inflammation, infection, or cancer of the cervix.

What Are the Symptoms of Pap Smear Abnormalities?

An abnormal Pap smear doesn’t cause symptoms, but some discomfort may be felt during the pelvic examination.

How Are Pap Smear Abnormalities Diagnosed?

After one abnormal Pap smear, the health care provider will probably do another in a few weeks. Other tests such as colposcopy may also be done. In a colposcopy, the doctor uses a colposcope (an instrument with a magnifying lens) to look closely at the cervix through the opening of the vagina. Small samples of tissue that looks abnormal may be removed and sent for testing.

How Are Pap Smear Abnormalities Treated?

A few women need treatment, which depends on the cause of the abnormalities. To destroy abnormal tissue, the doctor may use freezing, burning, a laser, or the loop electrosurgical excisional procedure (LEEP). LEEP uses a thin wire loop attached to an electrical unit.

For more serious abnormalities, the doctor may do a cone biopsy. A cone-shaped piece of the cervix, with all abnormal cells, is removed and checked for causes of the abnormality. The doctor cuts the tissue out with a surgical knife, cautery (burning tool), laser, or wire loop.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Pap Smear Abnormalities:
  • DO have a regular Pap smear. If you’re sexually active or are 18 years old or older, you should have a Pap smear yearly, or more often if you’re at high risk for getting cervical cancer, at least until age 65. This way, you can find abnormalities very early, when treatment is most effective.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have severe pain or bleeding after the Pap smear.
  • DO schedule your Pap smear between your periods. Menstrual blood can make the Pap smear less accurate. Also, don’t douche before you have a Pap smear. Douching can change Pap smear results.
  • DO use a condom during sex to avoid infection. A diaphragm doesn’t protect you as well.
  • DON’T douche before having your Pap smear.
  • DON’T smoke. Smoking may increase your risk of getting cervical cancer.

Contact the following sources:

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
    Tel: (202) 638-5577
  • National Cancer Institute
    Tel: (800) 4-CANCER (422-6237)
  • National Women’s Health Network
    Tel: (202) 628-7814

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor