You receive a reading of a “negative” Pap smear if no traces of abnormal cells show up on your screening. However, if you have an “abnormal” result, your first reaction might be alarm. This reading, however, simply means that irregular cells were detected on your cervix and need further investigation. “Abnormal” is not a diagnosis of cervical cancer.
If you do have the presence of abnormal or irregular cells, you benefit from additional screenings and tests to determine the nature of the cells. Identification, monitoring, and removal of irregular cells can prevent more serious issues from developing, including cervical cancer.
If you end up with abnormal Pap results, the doctors at Cary OB/GYN may recommend several courses of action.
Sometimes, your Pap smear comes back abnormal due to inflammation, a yeast infection, recent menses or sexual intercourse, pregnancy, or aging. If these are suspected causes, the doctors may ask you to wait a few months and repeat the Pap smear. Often, irregular cells resolve on their own.
If irregular cells persist, you may undergo a colposcopy. During this minimally invasive procedure, the Cary OB/GYN team uses a device called a colposcope that’s inserted into your vagina. The colposcope magnifies the view of the cervix to help the doctors get a closer look and see what’s causing an abnormal reading on your Pap smear.
During the procedure, a light is shined into the opening of your vagina and the area is swabbed with a vinegar-like solution to make the abnormal cells stand out. The colposcope, which is like a large magnifying glass, is then inserted and the tissue evaluated.
Sometimes during a colposcopy, the doctors identify cells that need further analysis and take a small sample of tissue, a biopsy, to be sent to a lab. The results of the biopsy help determine whether you need additional procedures.
LEEP or cone biopsy
If precancerous cells are detected, our doctors may recommend a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). This procedure removes cells and tissue from your cervix and vaginal area with a wire loop heated by an electric current.
During a LEEP, the fine wire cuts away a thin layer of abnormal tissue, allowing healthy tissue to grow. This tissue may be sent in for further analysis, or the LEEP completes your treatment.
A cone biopsy involves removing a cone-shaped wedge of tissue from the cervix. This procedure is often used when abnormal tissue sits high in the cervical canal. A small amount of normal tissue that surrounds the suspicious cells is also removed to ensure these cells don’t multiply. Cone biopsies are a way to treat irregular cells and to offer a diagnosis.
You may undergo a LEEP or cone biopsy when the doctors can’t see the abnormal cells with a colposcopy. The procedures can also be used to diagnose the type of irregular cells as well as remove the abnormal tissue. If the doctor suspects cervical cancer, a cone biopsy may help determine the extent of the cancer in deciding on further treatment.
If it’s been a while since your last Pap smear, call our Cary or Morrisville office. This screening test can save your life.