Have you had an abnormal Pap smear result and are wondering what comes next? A colposcopy can help your medical team determine if there’s reason to be concerned or if an abnormal Pap smear was just a slight aberration.
At Physicians for Women in Madison, Wisconsin, our team of reproductive health specialists is committed to early detection practices to help reduce cancer risks. That means annual gynecological exams, triannual Pap smears, and, if necessary, a colposcopy to check for signs of pre-cancerous cells in your cervix.
A Pap smear checks for abnormal cervical cells. In most cases, abnormalities are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). For most women who have HPV (and that’s most of us), slight changes in cervical tissue don’t affect our health, but for others, changes can lead to cell multiplication and if left unchecked, cervical cancer.
When detected early, cervical cancer is highly treatable, which is why your Pap smear is so important. Sadly, fewer than 7 out of 10 women are up-to-date on their Pap smears, and this could give time for disease to progress.
Our office uses the ThinPrep Pap Test. It’s regarded as the most effective and widely used test available, as well as proven to help with early detection of precancerous cervical cells.
Most women’s Pap smears come back normal, If yours doesn’t, you don't need to panic, but you do need to schedule a followup. For younger women, the followup starts with HPV screening. For women over 30, we usually conduct an HPV test at the same time as your Pap smear, called co-testing.
Negative HPV means we’ll probably add information to your file, monitor you, and schedule your next Pap for the subsequent year instead of three years after your abnormal Pap smear result. Positive HPV may mean we recommend a colposcopy.
An abnormal Pap result plus a positive HPV test usually doesn’t mean cancer. It simply means you’re at increased risk for cancer.
We may do a follow-up colposcopy, which is an up-close inspection of the cervix, to see if cellular abnormalities are being resolved by your body’s immune system (as happens with many HPV-positive women).
During the colposcopy, which is done in our office, you lie comfortably on your back and we insert the speculum, just as we do for your Pap smear. Your practitioner inserts the colposcope, which is a tube with a lens that lets us see a magnification of your cervix.
We take a swab of mucus secretions, and might apply a little solution that helps us see abnormalities more clearly in the tissue. Your practitioner looks for any visible lesions or abnormalities, and, if necessary, we take a small sample of tissue for a biopsy.
The benefits of a colposcopy are that we can quickly see and identify if you have any pre-cancerous cells or lesions to be concerned about and start you on appropriate treatment if needed. If we don’t find anything, we can conclude that the abnormal Pap smear result was an aberration or that your body cleared an HPV flare on its own.
Want more information about Pap smears, HPV, colposcopies, or cancer prevention? Contact our office at 608-218-4825, or book an appointment online.