Abnormal Pap smear
The Papanicolaou test (Pap smear/cervical smear) is a method of cervical screening used to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous processes in the cervix. It is a simple procedure where the doctor will take a sample of cells from the cervix (neck of the womb) to be examined for early changes in the cells. A cervical screening test can identify cell changes before they become cancer cells.
It is recommended that you get Pap smears every two years once you become sexually active. Pap smears are not diagnostic tests, but they are screening tools used to find any abnormal cells or dysplasia in the cervix. If the results of your Pap test come back positive, that means your doctor found abnormal or unusual cells on your cervix. It doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap smear may indicate any of the following:
- A bacterial or fungal infection or inflammation
- HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection
- Dysplasia (abnormal cells that can be pre-cancerous)
If your Pap smear is normal three times in a row, ask your doctor if you can have the screening done every five years. Pap smear must be carried out regularly up to the age of 70-75 years. Even if you are menopausal or have had a hysterectomy, Pap smear are recommended for all women.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer. But testing positive for the virus does not mean you actually have cancer. Around 90% of the time, the virus, which is sexually transmitted, clears on its own, leaving no evidence in its wake.
HPV vaccine is now available for women in the age group of 9-26 years. It is generally recommended for women who are not sexually active. It cannot be given in pregnancy. Even if you have taken the vaccine, Pap smears are advised as the vaccine gives only 70% protection against cervical cancer.