What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a screening test to check for precancer or early cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the opening to the uterus, or womb. Usually Pap smears find problems early – while they are still easy to treat. Before Pap smears were available, cancer of the cervix was common and often fatal.

Today, cancer of the cervix is rare and easily treated in women who have regular Pap smears.


Does an abnormal Pap smear mean I have cancer of the cervix?

Not necessarily. While an abnormal Pap smear may be the sign of cancer, many different changes on your cervix can cause an abnormal Pap smear. Pap smears can be abnormal if the cervix is inflamed or irritated. This can be caused by in infection of the cervix, douching, menopausal changes, or irritation. The cervix may also be going through some changes called dysplasia. Dysplasia means the cells on the Pap smear look abnormal under the microscope. Dysplasia isn’t the same thing as cancer but may lead to cancer if not treated.

Why do I need more tests?

Because your Pap smear was abnormal, more information is needed. An abnormal Pap smear is a general sign that something may be wrong. Further tests will be needed to show what (if anything) is actually wrong. You may need another Pap smear or a colposcopy.

What is a colposcopy?

A colposcope is a special instrument that shine a light on your cervix and magnifies it so that it can be seen better. If the doctor sees an area that doesn’t look normal, he will take a small piece of tissue from that area. This is called a biopsy. The tissue sample will be examined under a microscope. Having a colposcopy feels similar to having a Pap smear but takes a little longer. Some women have some cramping and bleeding during or after a colposcopy. We recommend that you take Advil or Tylenol prior to the exam.

What are my treatment options?

Your treatment options depend on the cause of the abnormal results. If the problem is a minor infection, it often is treated with medication. If the abnormal Pap smear is caused by changes in the cells, the affected areas of the cervix may need to be removed. There are several kinds of treatment to remove abnormal tissue from the cervix. The surface of the cervix may be frozen in a procedure called cryosurgery. Another method called LEEP uses a tiny electrical wire that acts like a very sharp scaple to remove the abnormal areas. Lasers may also be used to destroy the abnormal areas.

What happens after I have been treated?

That depends on what abnormalities are found and how they are treated. In general, most women who have an abnormal Pap smear need to have pap smears more often for a while after they have been treated. The doctor will let you know how often you will need to have Pap smears and/or colposcopic evaluations.