A pap smear is a screening test used to detect changes on the cervix that could lead to cancer. Cervical cancer occurs when cells on the cervix change, become abnormal, multiply and over grow. An abnormal pap smear does not mean that cancer is present. It indicates that abnormal cells were seen and additional testing may be needed.
Most of the time, cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). The HPV virus is very common, usually causes no symptoms, and is passed through intercourse. Our bodies are usually very good at fighting off infections, and most HPV viruses go away on their own.
Follow up after an abnormal pap smear depends on your age, pap smear history and the level of abnormal cells present.
For low grade cervical changes, follow up may mean more frequent pap smear monitoring.
For high grade cervical changes, colposcopy, cervical biopsy, and possible endocervical biopsy may be used to diagnose and determine treatment of the abnormal cells.
A colposcopy is a procedure that involves the use of a colposcope or special camera to view an enlarged image of the cervix. A solution is placed on the cervix that improves visibility of any abnormal areas. A cervical biopsy or an endocervical biopsy may be taken to determine the level of abnormality and to plan for treatment. Results from biopsy typically take 7-10 days and your physician will use these to determine your treatment plan.