Also called a Pap test, a Pap smear is used to screen for cervical cancer. It involves collecting a small amount of cells from the cervix after opening the walls of the vagina using a tool called a speculum. A Pap smear is an important part of a woman’s preventive care routine and is often performed in conjunction with a pelvic exam. Abnormal Pap smear results indicate unusual cellular changes in the cervix.
To help ensure the most accurate results from a Pap smear, avoid the following two days prior to your test:
- Using tampons
- Having sexual intercourse
- Using vaginal creams, sprays or powders
An abnormal Pap smear doesn’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. In most cases, an abnormal Pap test is a result of:
- A human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- A sexually transmitted infection (STI or STD), such as herpes or trichomoniasis
- A bacterial or yeast infection
- Inflammation in the pelvic area
- Normal cellular changes that occur with age
- Pre-cancerous changes (cervical dysplasia) that often go away on their own
Some conditions that cause abnormal Pap smear results can produce uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- Pain, itching or burning around the genital area during sexual intercourse or urination
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Rashes, sores, warts or bumps around the genital area
- Vaginal soreness and pain
Be sure to promptly speak with a physician if you notice these or any other unusual symptoms. Because such symptoms may signal an STI, it’s important to pause sexual activity until you have received a diagnosis and proper treatment.
If a physician suspects that cervical cancer may be to blame for an abnormal Pap smear, he or she may perform a colposcopy to view the cervix using a lighted magnifying lens. If any abnormalities are discovered, a biopsy may then be performed to test a small piece of tissue for cancerous cells. Tests to screen for HPV and other STIs may also be recommended, along with one or more follow-up Pap smears.
An abnormal Pap smear may not necessitate any further tests or treatment. If it does, world-class gynecological care is available at Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute. Our multidisciplinary team excels in:
- Sexually transmitted infection treatment and management
- Vaginal infection treatment
- Cervical cancer treatment and preventive strategies