The Pap test, also called a Pap smear or cervical cytology screening, checks for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix and allows early treatment so that they do not become cancer. Regular use of the Pap test has greatly reduced the number of cases of cervical cancer in the United States.
If you are told that you have an abnormal Pap test result, you may need further testing. The follow-up that you receive after an abnormal Pap test result depends on your age and the grade of dysplasia. Sometimes, there is more than one option for further testing. You and your health care provider will discuss each option and decide which is best for you.
Repeat Pap Test
For some women, one further testing option is to repeat the Pap test a few months later. This may give time for the changes to go away on their own.
Another option for some women is an HPV test. This test detects the presence of cancer-causing types of HPV in cervical cells. The cells used for the initial Pap test often can be tested, so a woman does not need to return to the office for another test.
Colposcopy, Biopsy, and Endocervical Sampling
Colposcopy lets your doctor look at the cervix in more detail through a magnifying device. It can detect problems of the cervix that cannot be seen with the eye alone. If an area of abnormal cells is seen, your doctor may decide that a biopsy is needed. For a biopsy, the doctor removes a small sample of tissue and sends it to a lab to be studied. Endocervical sampling also may be done. A small brush or other instrument is used to take a tissue sample from the cervical canal.
In this test, a sample of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) is collected for study.
If you have an abnormal Pap test result, talk to your doctor about what the result means and the recommended next steps. Keep in mind that many women with some types of abnormal Pap test results do not need treatment, only follow-up testing. It is important to have regular Pap tests to detect these problems. If treatment is needed, it can be done early enough to prevent cancer before it develops.