Checking for Cervical Cancer After an Abnormal Pap Test
Regular Pap smear tests allow your doctor to accomplish a couple of important tasks: track any cellular changes in your cervix, and detect and treat abnormal cells in your cervix before they get the chance to become cancerous.
If your Pap smear test results are “abnormal,” don't worry. This isn't an automatic cancer diagnosis. In fact, it usually isn't. To be sure, your doctor may recommend a colposcopy to further examine your cervix. A colposcopy is similar to a Pap smear, but it involves the use of a magnifying lens for closer inspection of abnormal cells in the cervix. Your doctor will apply acetic acid (essentially, vinegar) to your cervix, which will turn any abnormal areas of tissue white.
Depending on the results, your doctor may want to move forward with a cervical biopsy.
Getting a biopsy
A cervical biopsy involves the removal of a piece of sample tissue for testing, and it can be accomplished one of several ways:
- Endocervical curettage. For this type of biopsy, an instrument called a curette is used to scrape the surface of the cervix and the lining of the endocervical canal.
- Punch biopsy. For this procedure, your doctor will use a circular blade similar to a paper hole puncher to remove a small piece of sample tissue for testing. Depending on the amount of abnormal tissue present, more than one punch biopsy may be taken.
- Cone biopsy. Used more for treatment of abnormal, precancerous cells than as a diagnostic tool, a cone biopsy uses a laser or scalpel to remove a larger, cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix.
Recovery time after a cervical biopsy depends on the type of procedure and whether you are put under anesthesia. It's common to experience mild or moderate cramps and some bleeding in the days following a biopsy.
What comes after a biopsy?
Once your lab results come back, your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss them. In some cases, test results will show only a low-grade change in the cells of the cervix, meaning they are unlikely to become cancerous. However, moderate- to high-grade changes in cervical cells indicate a higher risk of cervical cancer. If this is the case, your doctor will discuss treatment and prevention options with you.
Catching precancerous and cancerous cells is essential for successful treatment. So, while it may not be your favorite appointment of the year, don't skip out on your regular Pap smear test. It could save your life.