Doctors have been depending on pap smear results to detect pre-cancer stages or presence of cervical cancer for several decades now. The pap smear test is a test in which one can find out if there is any kind of abnormality in the cervical cells.
Named after its inventor, Georgios Papanikolaou, the Papanicolaou test or pap smear test, is a test in which the doctor checks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Cervix is that part of the reproductive system, that forms the neck of the womb or uterus of a woman. The doctor inserts an instrument called speculum into the vagina and after broadening the opening of the cervix with it, he or she uses a small spatula to scrape the cells from the outer opening of the cervix.
Once the cervical cell sample is obtained, it is sent to the laboratory for tests. From the test one can detect the pre-cancer stage and cervical cancer. 90% of cervical cancer cases could have been prevented, if women would undergo regular pap smear tests. The test report will state whether the cells are normal or abnormal. About, 2-3 million abnormal pap smear results are detected every year in the United States.
Abnormal Pap Smear Results
Negative results mean that the cells in the cervix are normal and there are no signs of any abnormalities. But, pap smear abnormal cells means that some cells in the cervix, appear different as compared to other cells. While detection of abnormal pap smear cells may indicate initial steps towards cancer, it is not true in every case. In fact, statistics states that one in every ten pap smear results detect some kind of abnormality.
Most of the cases are not serious and are not indicators of cancer. Abnormality may indicate problems in the endocervix and endometrium. Thus, women need not panic as soon as they find that their report states an abnormal pap smear. It is important to understand the kind of abnormality in the cervical cells to realize how grave the situation is. There are various kinds of abnormalities, of which we will look at two; low-grade and high grade abnormalities.
A virus called HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) can infect the cervix. Positive HPV results can conduce to abnormalities in the pap smear report. This virus is transmitted mostly through sexually transmitted diseases and the presence of this virus does not mean cancer. However, if this infection is not treated, there is a risk of cervical cancer development in the future.
High Grade Abnormalities
If the report states that the abnormality in the cells is of high grade, it again means there is an HPV infection, however, the difference here is that the infection is more of the severe kind. At this stage, the abnormality is serious and needs to be treated as soon as possible, as the risk of leading to cancer is higher. Then again, high grade abnormalities does not mean cancer, it only means it can lead to cancer, thus, it’s important to remember this key difference.
The doctor takes only a few minutes to take the cell sample, but, how long does it take to get pap smear results? It takes about 3-4 weeks to get the results from the laboratory. If the tests reveal abnormalities, depending on the grade or severity of abnormality, the doctor will recommend a treatment procedure. The different kinds of treatment are cryosurgery, laser surgery or the LEEP procedure, all of which help to get rid of abnormal cells in different ways.
A pap smear test forms an important part of every woman’s health care routine, as pap smear results can help detect cervical cancer in its embryonic stages, and can help treat it before it’s too late. It takes several years for changes in cervical cells to turn to cancer. Thus, every woman after the age of 21 should have a pap smear procedure done every two to three years. An ounce of early detection and prevention is better than a pound of cure!