What Could Your Abnormal Pap Smear Mean?
If you've recently had to undergo a second pap smear after your first came back inconclusive or abnormal, you may be worried and scouring the internet for potential causes. Some of the answers can seem overwhelming, particularly those that involve serious diseases. However, in most cases an abnormal pap smear is nothing to worry about. Read on to learn about each of the various problems that can cause an abnormal pap smear, from most to least common, to ease your fears and help you more accurately pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.
What are some common causes of an abnormal pap smear?
During a pap smear, the gynecologist will take a small swab of skin and tissue cells from the outside of your cervix. This procedure may cause some temporary discomfort but shouldn't be painful. These cells are then sent off to be examined by a pathologist under a microscope. If any of the cells appear abnormal, or if there is an insufficient amount of tissue to be examined, the sample will be marked "abnormal" or "inconclusive" and your gynecologist will be asked to obtain a second sample. In most cases, the issue that caused the abnormal sample can be resolved before the second sample is taken, and you'll be given a clean bill of health and sent on your way.
Common factors that can lead to an abnormal pap smear are:
- Sexual activity shortly before the pap smear (your gynecologist will likely ask you to refrain from sexual activity for the night preceding your pap smear)
- A bladder or vaginal infection, like a yeast infection
- HPV (human papilloma virus), which affects up to 75 percent of the adult population but is generally asymptomatic
What are some less common causes of an abnormal pap smear?
Some possible, but less common causes of an abnormal pap smear could include:
- Herpes infection
- Dysplasia (abnormal cells that can lead to cervical, ovarian, or uterine cancer)
Although cancer may be the first thing on your mind when you hear you've had an abnormal pap smear, the vast majority of these abnormal results are due to factors other than dysplasia.
What should you do if you have an abnormal pap smear?
During your gynecological exam, your doctor likely identified any potential infections or other issues that could cause an abnormal pap smear. If your doctor has prescribed you with antibiotics for a bacteria infection or diflucan for a yeast infection, ensure that you've fully finished your course of medicine before your follow-up pap smear is performed.
You'll likely also need to come in for a pap smear on an annual basis for the next few cycles, rather than wait a few years before tests. This will help ensure that you continue to remain in good gynecological health. Contact your local OBGYN for more information.