Abnormal Smear and Colposcopy, Biopsy
What does an abnormal Pap smear result mean?
An abnormal Pap smear result means that some cells from your cervix looked different from normal cells. This occurs in around 1 in 10 Pap smears.
It is natural to feel anxious or worried if you have just found out that your Pap smear result is abnormal, however less than one per cent of abnormalities are cancer.
Low grade abnormalities result from slight changes in the cells of the cervix, which may be the result of a mild infection such as thrush or HPV.
HPV is present in 99.7 per cent of cervical cancer cases.
However, not all HPV infections lead to cervical cancer.
Most women don’t know they have HPV until they receive an abnormal Pap smear result. For most women the virus clears naturally in one to two years. However, in some cases HPV may take longer to clear from the body, increasing the risk of developing cervical cancer.
If you have a low grade abnormality and your previous Pap smears were normal, your doctor will ask you to come back for a repeat Pap smear in one year. This allows time for the body to naturally clear the HPV infection. If the repeat Pap smear result is abnormal you will be referred to a specialist for further investigation, called a colposcopy. The specialist uses a colposcope toget a magnified view of the cervix, to check the extent and nature of any abnormalities.
High grade abnormalities can result from more severe changes to the surface layers of the cervix. If leftuntreated they have a greater chance of developing into cervical cancer.
It usually takes at least 10 years before high grade abnormalities develop into cervical cancer. If you have a high grade abnormality your doctor will refer you to a specialist for further investigations and treatment.
How will I know when to have my next Pap smear?
Most doctors have an established recall system to notify you when your next Pap smear is due. Most state health departments have established Pap smear registries that provide a safety net recall system although you can opt out. Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
Colposcopy is an examination of the cervix, using a microscope called a colposcope.
The colposcope looks like a pair of binoculars on a stand. It may have a camera attached so that you can see your cervix on a screen. A colposcope magnifies the cervix and vaginal wall so that any abnormal cells can be seen.
Why you need colposcopy
If you have had an abnormal cervical smear test result, you will have been advised to have colposcopy.
Abnormal cell changes often return to normal on their own. In a small number of cases, abnormal cells can develop into cervical cancer if they are not treated.
Your colposcopy appointment
If you have to change the time of your appointment for any reason, eg, you think you will be having your period on the day of your appointment, please phone the clinic as soon as possible.
At the colposcopy clinic
The doctor or nurse will ask you questions about your health. They will also want to know the first day of your last period. This is a good time for you to ask questions. You will then have colposcopy