Every year you see your gynecologist for your annual Pap test, sometimes called a Pap smear. During the Pap test, your OBGYN will take a swab of your cervix in order to look for any abnormalities. If your Pap test comes back positive, it means there were abnormal cells. Your gynecologist will contact you to discuss whether additional tests are needed.
What Causes Abnormal Cervical Cells?
In some cases, cervical cells change as a result of human papilloma virus (HPV). It’s a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can alter cells and has been linked as a precursor to cervical cancer. Abnormal cervical cells may also be the result of another type of infection, caused by bacteria or yeast. For women who have already gone through menopause, cell changes may appear due to aging.
Types of Abnormal Cervical Cells
Your OBGYN will evaluate your Pap test results to identify the type of abnormal cervical cells that were present and determine next steps. There are four common types:
- Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS) are only present when cells are slightly abnormal. In the event an HPV test is negative, ASCUS is typically not concerning.
- Atypical glandular cells are located in your cervical opening and inside your uterus. Your gynecologist will likely recommend additional tests to rule out the possibility of cancer.
- Squamous intraepithelial lesion cells are considered to be pre-cancerous. A “low-grade” classification indicates they will likely not turn cancerous for years, while a “high-grade” designation could turn to cancer much sooner.
- Squamous cell cancer, also known as adenocarcinoma cells, are so abnormal they are almost certainly cancer.
Tests Following an Abnormal Pap Smear
After a positive Pap test, your OBGYN may recommend additional tests:
- Colposcopy uses a lighted magnifying tool to allow your gynecologist to look at the cells of your cervix and take pictures of them for permanent record.
- Biopsy is a tissue sample taken from your cervix and can be done at the time of the colposcopy.
- HPV test is similar to a Pap smear to determine if HPV could be the cause of the abnormal cells.
- Pap test may be repeated in six to twelve months to see if the abnormal cells will resolve on their own.
Speak with Dr. Nathan T. Thomas if you have questions about your test results and next steps.