Last updated: Mar 02, 2016
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is so common that one out of every two sexually active adults has been infected with one or more of the approximately 100 types of HPV, only 30 of which are transmitted sexually. Most of these are benign, but some can cause genital warts, while others can cause cervical cancera disease that can be halted in its very early stages by a gentle, painless scraping of the cervix known as a Pap smear, generally recommended annually.
What is an abnormal Pap test?
A Pap test, or Pap smear, is part of a womans routine physical exam. It is the best way to prevent cervical cancer, because it can find cells on your cervix that could turn into cancer. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.
Most of the time, abnormal cell changes on the cervix are caused by certain types of human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. Usually these cell changes go away on their own. But certain types of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer. Thats why its important for women to have regular Pap tests. It takes many years for cell changes in the cervix to turn into cancer.
High-risk sex raises your chances of getting HPV and having an abnormal Pap test. High-risk sex includes having sex without condoms and having more than one sex partner (or having a sex partner who has other partners).
The cell changes themselves don't cause symptoms. HPV, which causes most abnormal Pap tests, usually doesn't cause symptoms either. This is why regular Pap tests are so important.
- A discharge from the vagina that isn't normal for you, such as a change in the amount, color, odor, or texture.
- Pain, burning, or itching in your pelvic or genital area when you urinate or have sex.
- Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts on or around your genitals.
What will you need to do if you have an abnormal Pap test?
- Colposcopy, a test to look at the vagina and cervix through a lighted magnifying tool.
- An HPV test. Like a Pap test, an HPV test is done on a sample of cells taken from the cervix.
- Another Pap test in 4 to 6 months.
- A colposcopy is usually done before any treatment is given. During a colposcopy, the doctor also takes a small sample of tissue from the cervix so that it can be looked at under a microscope. This is called a biopsy.
- Treatment, if any, will depend on whether your abnormal cell changes are mild, moderate, or severe. In moderate to severe cases, you may have treatment to destroy or remove the abnormal cells.
January 12, 2007
- Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH
Barbara S. Apgar, MD, MS - Family Medicine, Women's Health
Ross Berkowitz, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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