An abnormal pap smear doesn’t have to be scary.

It’s scary to get a phone call telling you that your pap smear results were not normal and you will need to come in for more testing.  Thankfully, there are many causes of abnormal pap smear results and the majority do not mean that you have cancer–but instead that the cells located in the cervix have changed for one reason or another.  In some cases, whatever has caused them to be abnormal may resolve on its own and others will need to have another pap smear to confirm those changes or additional testing to look more closely at the cells themselves.   Abnormal pap smears can be caused by a variety of sources and your doctor will be able to tell you about your own case, but there are a few common causes.

Pap smears are designed to look for cells in the cervix that may be changing into a condition known as dysplasia (dis-play-sha) which may lead to cancer if it is allowed to progress untreated.  However simply having an abnormal pap smear doesn’t mean anything more than you need to be evaluated further.

Risk factors for an abnormal pap smear

While most changes that can cause a pap smear to be abnormal are related to life behaviors over a long period of time, there are some things you can do before you have a pap smear to help reduce the change of getting an abnormal result.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, you should:

  • Try not to have any sex for two days before your exam
  • Don’t use any tampons in the days before your pap
  • Avoid deodorant sprays, douching, powders, or medications in the vagina

Other common causes of an abnormal pap smear may take longer to trigger changes in your body.  Risk factors for cervical changes and abnormal pap smears include:

  • Sexual activity that starts before age 18
  • Having many sexual partners, or partners who have lots of partners
  • Any history of a sexually transmitted infection, especially the virus known as human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Smoking

And speaking of HPV, let’s elaborate for a moment. There are over 40 types of the HPV virus, but only a few that can lead to cervical cancer.  The virus, which is spread through sex can never be removed from the body and can cause genital warts in some men and women.  The strain that causes warts does not cause cervical cancer.  Because most cases don’t cause any symptoms, women are usually not aware they carry the virus at all.

In the event that you have an abnormal pap smear—don’t despair.  Dr. Hessel has been evaluating women on a case-by-case basis for years and is ready to help you find a cause and a treatment that is just right for you.  Guided by the best medical technology and years of experience, she’s willing to provide you with the tools and education to give you options, and offer the help you need to be your healthiest, most “normal” best. Make an appointment today.