According to the
Foundation for Women’s Cancer, for over 50 years, routine use of the Pap test to screen for cervical
cancer has reduced deaths from the disease by more than 70%. A Pap test
is a standard way healthcare providers can check to see if there are any
changes in the cervix that might cause concern. The Pap test involves
looking at a sample of cells from the cervix under a microscope to see
if there are any that are abnormal. It is a good test for finding not
only cancer, but also finding cells that might become cancerous in the future.
Usually, healthcare providers perform the Pap test as part of a routine
pelvic exam at recommended intervals. However, a Pap is not always done
at the time of a routine pelvic exam, so it is important to ask your healthcare
provider if a Pap was done.
Gynecologist Dr. Robert Boyd with Catawba Women’s Center says that
it is important that women know and understand their Pap test results
and follow through with any recommendations made by their healthcare provider.
“Some abnormal Pap tests will be followed by colposcopy (examination
of the cervix using a magnifying device to see the cervix more clearly)
and biopsy of any abnormal appearing areas on the cervix,” said
Dr. Boyd. “Any pre-cancerous areas can then be seen and treated
A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found 20% of American
women state they have had at least one abnormal Pap in their lifetime.
Those who undergo regular Pap smears are highly unlikely to develop cervical
cancer because Pap smears allow providers to identify who might be at
risk for cervical cancer and to monitor and intervene when necessary to
avoid cervical cancer.
Often when a patient has an abnormal Pap, a colposcopy examination is recommended.
A colposcopy examination involves looking at the cervix with a colposcope.
Acetic acid (i.e., vinegar) is applied to the cervix. This interacts with
any abnormal cells in such a way to cause them to become white and possibly
form patterns that can be recognized by your provider. If these areas
are seen, a biopsy (sampling of the tissue) is often performed.
For most, the anticipation of having a cervical biopsy is by far the worst
part of the experience. It is typically a mild to moderate pinch that,
while not pleasant, is “do-able.” Afterwards, a small amount
of bleeding is expected and different (non-painful) measures are available
to your provider to make it stop. These measures often will cause slight
discharge for a couple of days and your provider may recommend that you
abstain from intercourse for a few days as well.
After the biopsy specimen results are available, your provider will recommend
a course of action along well-established national guidelines. For most,
this will simply consist of returning in several months for another Pap
smear. For others, an in-office or surgical procedure might be recommended.
If you have a Pap smear come back abnormal, learn more about abnormal Pap
smears, the colposcopy, and cervical biopsy. With knowledge, most women
feel more in control of your health care. To schedule an appointment with
Dr. Boyd or any of the qualified providers at Catawba Women’s Center
located at 1501 Tate Boulevard, SE , Hickory, North Carolina 28602, patients
are asked to call 828.322.4140.