One element of a woman’s regular physical exam is often the Pap test, a proven method of spotting precancerous cells in your cervix (the lower part of your uterus that opens into the vagina). Yet, you may have numerous questions concerning the Pap test, which we’ll try to answer here.
“Cervical cancer takes 5-10 years to reach an advanced stage, and the Pap test is an excellent early warning system,” says McLeod Gynecologist Charles Tatum, MD. “We extract some cells from the cervix and send them to a lab to see if they detect any changes in the cells.”
Some labs can return results in a few days; most, in a few weeks. Results take 3 forms:
Other conditions that may cause alterations in cervical cells include:
It’s not surprising that you experience some anxiety when faced with an “abnormal” Pap test. However, it does NOT mean you have cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year some 3 million women receive an Inconclusive or Abnormal result from the Pap test, yet only 3/10 of 1 percent will actually get cervical cancer.
In the case of an Inconclusive or Abnormal result, your Gynecologist may recommend another Pap test in 6 months to a year or they might suggest additional tests, including a biopsy or sample of the cervical tissue for further analysis. Your Gynecologist may also suggest an HPV test to determine if that was the cause of the cell changes.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
On your next visit to a Gynecologist, ask if it’s appropriate for you to have a Pap test. If it results in an Inconclusive or Abnormal finding, ask your Gynecologist to explain the report to you.
Remember, with the use of HPV vaccines and regular Pap Tests, cervical cancer is the most preventable type of cancer in women.
Sources include: McLeod Health, Women’s Health (HHS), American Cancer Society, American Society of Cytopathology, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention