Pap smears are important for your health because they catch cervical cancer at an early stage, when it’s easy to cure. Dr. Anna Le and the team at Annandale Ob-Gyn encourage you to get routine Pap smears. Should you have an abnormal Pap, they’re experts at diagnosing and treating the problem. If you haven’t had a Pap test in several years, call one of their offices in Annandale or Alexandria, Virginia, or use the online booking feature to schedule a preventive pelvic exam.
Why do you need a Pap smear?
A Pap smear screens for cervical cancer, which is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is spread when you have sexual contact with a person who’s infected. Your body’s immune system normally takes care of an HPV infection, clearing it out of your body. In some women, however, the virus stays in cells in the cervix, where it causes abnormal cell growth that can turn into cervical cancer.
When should you get a Pap smear?
Your doctor at Annandale Ob-Gyn & Primary Care recommends when to schedule Pap smears based on your medical history and overall health. If you have a high risk of cervical cancer, you may need to get a Pap smear more frequently than the following standard schedule:
- Women aged 21-29 years: Pap test alone every three years
- Women aged 30-65: Pap test and an HPV test every five years or a Pap test alone every three years
How are Pap smear results reported?
As cells progress from normal to cancerous, the changes can be seen in the Pap smear. If all the cells are normal, your Pap is negative. When abnormal cells are observed, they’re graded based on their severity, ranging from:
- Slightly abnormal, but the cause is undetermined
- Mild abnormalities caused by HPV
- Moderate to severe abnormalities likely to progress to cancer
- Squamous cell carcinoma or cervical cancer
What happens after you get an abnormal Pap smear?
You may need to have an HPV test to determine if it’s responsible for a slight abnormality. When changes are mild, your doctor may recommend waiting a few months then having a repeat Pap smear. When a follow-up Pap shows mild changes haven’t improved, or your Pap results are graded as moderate to severe, you’ll need a colposcopy — a visual examination of your cervix using magnification — and possibly a biopsy, depending on what your doctor sees during the colposcopy.
How are abnormal cervical cells treated?
Several procedures are used to remove abnormal cervical cells, including:
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): electrical current is used to remove tissue
- Cryotherapy: abnormal tissues are destroyed by freezing
- Laser therapy: laser energy is used to destroy abnormal cells
- Conization: a cone-shaped piece of cervix containing abnormal cells is removed