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What Does it Mean if I Have an Abnormal Pap Smear?

Have you ever gotten a call from your doctor's office to come back in to repeat your Pap smear?  Any woman who has can relate to the immediate sense of fear-the natural reaction is to think the worst.  In most cases, however, the worst thing you have to fear is just having to get up in stirrups again; most Paps that need to be repeated are because the sample was insufficient for the test to be conclusive.

Pap smears are the gold standard test for the diagnosis of cervical cancer, a disease which kills 4,500 American women each year.  More than half of those women have not had a Pap smear within 5 years of their diagnosis.  In general, cellular changes that progress to cervical cancer grow very slowly.  Annual Pap smears allow your doctor to catch changes early and to intervene before they spread.  As a result, death rates from cervical cancer have decreased by more than 70% since the Pap smear was introduced nearly 60 years ago.

The Pap smear identifies more than cancerous changes.  Your Pap smear report can also identify inflammation and several types of infection, from yeast infections to sexually transmitted diseases.  Based upon your Pap smear result and your sexual history, your doctor may also recommend a test for HPV or human papilloma virus.  We'll discuss this tomorrow.

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Created: 2/28/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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