Understanding Abnormal Pap Smears
A Pap smear is performed every couple of years and is used to detect the presence of abnormal cervical cells. During this screening, cells from the outside of cervix are scraped and examined under a microscope to check for cancerous and precancerous cells. If only normal cervical cells are found, then your test results will come back negative. This means you won’t need further testing until your next Pap smear. However, if you have an abnormal pap smear, it means that there were cells found in the cervix that aren’t normal.
Abnormal Pap Smear Causes
Many of these abnormal cellular changes are caused by a strain of a sexually transmitted disease known as human papillomavirus (HPV). While these cells can go away on their own, certain kinds of HPV have been known to cause cervical cancer.
However, bacterial or yeast infections can also cause an abnormal Pap smear result. Also, if you are a woman in the post-menopausal stage of life, an abnormal Pap smear may have found changes to the cervical cells that are just caused by normal aging.
Having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner can increase your likelihood of getting HPV. HPV has the ability to remain in the body for years without any symptoms. You may still have been exposed to HPV in the past, but you may still have an abnormal Pap smear years later.
Understanding my Pap Smear Results
We use a system that will classify your results into one of these groups:
- Normal/Negative: There are no cancerous or precancerous cells.
- Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significant (ASC-US): This is most typically a sign of HPV; however, it could also mean that precancerous cells are present. This is also the most common abnormal result.
- Squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL): There are both low grade (LSIL) and high-grade (HSIL) forms. Low grade is often caused by HPV, which will more than likely go away on its own. High grade, however, indicates more serious problems.
- Atypical squamous cells, cannot exclude HSIL (ASC-H): Further testing is often needed to pinpoint whether the cause is high-grade SIL or not.
- Atypical glandular cells (AGC): These changes are indicative of pre-cancer within the cervix or uterus.
If you have an abnormal Pap smear, you may need further testing to detect the cause of these cellular changes. A lot will depend on your age and the type of results you have received. We would be happy to discuss your testing and treatment options with you.
In order to detect problems at their earliest stage, it’s important to continue getting regular Pap smears, particularly if you’ve had an abnormal Pap smear in the past.
To find out more about Pap smears or to schedule an appointment, call Sharon B. Diamond, MD, FACOG, MSW at (212) 876-2200.