A Pap smear (or Pap test) uses a sample of cells taken from a woman’s cervix or vagina to look for changes that could indicate cancer or precancerous conditions. Because early detection is key to curing cervical cancer, Pap smears are part of a woman’s routine physical exam.
The Pap test is a screening test, not diagnostic, so having an abnormal Pap test doesn’t mean you have cancer. In fact, the odds that you have cancer, even with an abnormal test result, are very small. Abnormal cell changes can be caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), infection such as those caused by bacteria or yeast, or simply the result of getting older. In many cases, the abnormal cell changes will go away on their own without treatment. We understand how stressful it can be to have an abnormal pap smear, but let us reassure you that treatment in most cases is easy.
Following an abnormal Pap test, we will work with you on monitoring and/or treatment of the abnormal cells. Often, the only action necessary is more frequent checkups and Pap smears, though additional tests may be recommended based on the type of cell changes and whether they are mild, moderate, or severe. We encourage patients to stop smoking with abnormal pap smears because smoking can lead to longer recovery rates, and we provide smoking cessation help if needed.
If abnormal test results are the result of an infection, it can usually be treated with medication. For women nearing menopause whose abnormal results are due to normal body changes, estrogen cream may improve the cell changes. For moderate or severe cell changes, treatment will focus on destroying or removing the abnormal tissue, and could include cone biopsy, loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), cryotherapy, or laser therapy.
- With cone biopsy, a cone-shaped wedge of tissue is removed from the cervix and examined under a microscope. In addition to the abnormal tissue, a small amount of normal tissue around the cone-shaped wedge of abnormal tissue is also removed.
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) uses a thin, low-voltage electrified wire loop to cut out abnormal cervical cells.
- Cryotherapy destroys abnormal cervical cells by freezing them.
- Laser therapy uses a laser beam to destroy abnormal cervical cells.
In the event of a cervical cancer diagnosis, Shoemaker Gynecology will refer you to an oncology specialist whose focus is on destroying or removing the cancer.