Worried because your pap smear test results came abnormal? And your doctor asked you for a colposcopy. You start fretting and searching for a private gynaecology clinic in London.
An abnormal pap smear test indicates unusual cell growth in the cervix. There is absolutely nothing you should worry about. It does not mean that you have cervical cancer.
These results could be a sign of infection due to the HPV virus. This is the most common sexually transmitted infection if left untreated could lead to cancer. Still in doubt? Here is everything you need to know about a pap smear.
What’s a pap smear, anyway?
A pap smear test is nothing but to confirm the changes in cervical cells. The term ‘pap’ stands for Papanicolaou, a doctor who analyzed changes in cervical cells. The test is ideal for women 21 and above. In other cases, where there are some health risks (HIV) involved, this test can be done.
It is a very minor test, which takes not more than a minute. And there are no risks or side effects. So, if your doctor has asked you to take the test, he or she wants to check the changes caused by the HPV virus.
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How is it done?
As already mentioned, this is an invasive yet painless method of checking one’s cervix. Your doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina.
Then he or she will scrape out a sample of your cervix cells using a plastic wand.
And that is it.
Please note that you should never take the test during your menstrual cycle. This is because it can interfere with the test results. Also, before the test, do not use any chemical products to clean down there.
Are there any side effects?
While this is a painless method, some may feel cramping (very mild), which should not last for more than a minute. This is especially true for women taking the test for the first time.
What do the results mean?
More often than not, a pap smear test results come normal. In cases, where the results are unsatisfactory, one should not worry. Minor cell changes may not last long and should disappear without any medical intervention.
Let us explore more about what the test results indicate:
- Normal: A normal result shows no risks and that your cervix is super healthy.
- Unsatisfactory: This means that the technician in the laboratory could not read the cells properly. In that case, your doctor will reschedule the test with you.
- Benign cell changes: It indicates a normal pap smear result but there is an infection. You may need another pelvic test to determine the cause of the infection.
- Abnormal: An abnormal result indicates the presence of abnormal cells that are not normal. Your doctor will, then, need to check for possible HPV.
Causes of an abnormal pap smear test
It does not have to be always cancer if your pap smear results came abnormal. There could be other factors in play. The most common reason why the results were abnormal is HPV infection.
A study showed that almost 90% of the time HPV infection is the cause of abnormal results. The good news is that it goes away without causing cancer. Sometimes, women do not even have any symptoms.
When the virus leads to cancer, the disturbed cells will be considered mild, moderate, or severe. Consult your doctor as soon as possible to know your options. Because that is the only logical thing to do.
Other factors that caused an abnormal pap smear:
- Yeast infection: There are good and bad bacteria & viruses that reside down there in small quantities. When yeast infection sets in, it indicates an increase in the number of yeast cells that are growing substantially. While it can be bothersome, yet not severe.
- Bacterial vaginosis: This is a relatively milder form of infection in the vagina. When you develop an infection there, the balance between the good and bad bacteria is compromised.
It is a condition that is treatable, and there is nothing you should worry about.
N.B: As you age and enter menopause, a lot of changes take place in your body. As a result, there is an imbalance in hormone levels. Estrogen is one of them. When there is a low level of estrogen in your body, the cervix cells start taking a new shape and can even mimic cancer.
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What should you expect from a colposcopy after an abnormal test result?
There are times when the abnormal result may need you to have a colposcopy. during the procedure, you will have to undress from the waist down. You need to sign a consent form before the procedure.
You will lie down on the examination table with both of your feet placed in the holders. A technician will gently insert a speculum into your vagina. The speculum works to separate the vaginal walls. This makes it easier to examine your cervix walls.
Your doctor will use a colposcope to magnify the area of examination. The machine comes in contact with the outside of your vagina. Typically, it is a magnifying glass that enables your doctor to look at the tiny cells.
He or she will then swab your cervix with a vinegar solution. It will cause the unhealthy cells to change their colour so your doctor can easily examine them. If there is any presence of unhealthy cells in the cervix, your doctor will take the sample to perform a biopsy.
What Are the Symptoms of Abnormal Cell Changes?
When there is a change in your cervix cells, it may not cause any symptoms. If the change is a result of an HPV infection, then also you may not experience any symptoms.
When the pap smear results came as abnormal due to a sexually transmitted infection, you will face the following symptoms:
- An atypical discharge with a different texture, odour, or colour
- Itching or burning sensation in the genital or pelvic area during intercourse or urination
- Presence of rashes, blisters, warts, or lumps around the genitals
Risks for Abnormal Pap Smears
There are certain sexual behaviours that increase the risk of an abnormal pap smear in women. Having unprotected sex is one of the many behaviours. There are other reasons too – not using a condom, and having more than one sex partner – to name a few. Sometimes, HPV infection can increase the risk of abnormal pap test results.
The HPV virus can stay in the human body for years without the patient even knowing it. This means even if you are committed to one partner, there is a chance of an abnormal pap smear. This is because she may have contracted HPV previously.
Impaired Immune System
The immune system works as a natural defence system of your body, which wards off infections. If the immune system is impaired, it is not able to protect you from infections. Some medications and health issues may impair your immune system:
- Drugs including corticosteroids administered to suppress the immune system after an organ transplant
- Radiation or chemotherapy
- Substance abuse
- Certain diseases like cancer, diabetes, AIDS and HIV
Women were administered a drug called diethylstilbestrol or DES to prevent a miscarriage. There is an increased risk of developing the following conditions in a newborn baby girl whose mother used to take this medication:
- Vaginal cancer
- Abnormal cells that will lead to abnormal pap smears
- Issues with the structure of the reproductive organs (T-shaped uterus which causes infertility)