January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and Dr. Tajzoy and his staff want to remind you of the importance of routine Pap smears. This type of testing is important for identifying as early as possible cell changes in the cervix that can indicate an increased risk for cancer.
After you have a Pap smear, your results are available within a few days. If your test shows no abnormal indications, you’re typically good to go until your next annual exam. However, if your Pap smear results show an abnormality, it’s important to know what to expect for the next step.
Causes of abnormal Pap smears
Just because your Pap smear test results come back abnormally doesn’t automatically mean you have cancerous cells. If your results are abnormal, it can suggest that other underlying medical conditions are present.
Possible causes of an abnormal Pap smear include vaginal inflammation or an active vaginal infection. You may also have abnormal test results if you had sex prior to your procedure. In some cases, abnormal Pap results are inconclusive for no reason at all.
Taking the next step
Following an abnormal Pap smear, your next step is additional testing. Dr. Tajzoy may suggest redoing the Pap smear to see if results come back the same.
In addition to a retest, you can expect a thorough evaluation of your overall health. Dr. Tajzoy discusses your medical history and any other symptoms that may be related to an abnormal Pap test. Your medical history is an important part of the discussion, as your cervical cancer risk is higher if other members of your family have the condition.
As a Pap smear is only a screening test, you may need to undergo additional diagnostic tests to determine if cancerous cells are present. Typically, the diagnostic tests used to identify cancer cells in the cervix include a colposcopy and a scraping of the cervix. During either of these procedures, a biopsy, or sample of your cervical tissue, will be examined more closely.
Navigating post-Pap diagnostics
If you need additional diagnostic testing, it can help ease your mind knowing what to expect. For an endocervical scraping procedure, a special instrument known as a curette is inserted into the vaginal canal to access the area of your cervix closest to your uterus. A small amount of tissue is scraped away and collected for further testing.
A colposcopy is similar to a pelvic exam, except that Dr. Tajzoy uses a colposcope, which has magnifying lenses, to better examine your cervix. To see abnormal cells easily, he may apply a weak acidic solution to the cervix.
If suspicious cells are noticeable during your colposcopy, Dr. Tajzoy may perform a biopsy, collecting a small piece of cervical tissue for further examination at a medical laboratory.
Other biopsy techniques
Another type of biopsy technique used for suspected cervical cancer is known as a cone biopsy. This method involves the removal of cervical tissue from the area where most precancerous and cancerous growths start. This piece of tissue often resembles a cone to ensure a quality collection of cervical cells.
A cone biopsy isn’t only effective in helping to identify cervical cancer, it can also be useful as an early treatment. The procedure is often used to remove all of the early cancer cells completely before they have a chance to spread to other areas.
The cone biopsy procedure may be performed using a laser, a surgical scalpel, or a heated wire loop. Following the biopsy, it’s common to have some mild bleeding and cramping for a day or two, but otherwise you shouldn’t experience any downtime or interruption of your usual activities.
If you haven’t had a Pap smear in some time or are looking for a second opinion about an abnormal Pap smear, schedule a consultation with Dr. Tajzoy today using the online booking feature or by phone.