No woman expects it. Most of us don’t even think about it. For the majority of us, pap smears are an inconsequential detail of our gynecological exams, the part we complete out of duty but don't really consider to be of any real importance. Usually, we’re more concerned with our blood tests and vaginal exams. "Do I have gonorrhea? Should I get a mammogram? Is my uterus in the right position?"
Of course, we all know in the back of our minds that pap smears serve a specific purpose. They test for changes in your cervix and reveal if you have an infection, unhealthy cervical cells, or cervical cancer. Like every other physical exam we complete, they’re not a big deal unless they yield unfavorable results.
A few years ago, I went in for a routine checkup to get a refill of birth control pills. A couple of weeks later, I was told that I had an abnormal pap smear and that I needed to meet with my gynecologist right away.
When I met with her, she explained that my results could point to a number of different conditions, but the only way to figure out what they really meant was to undergo a colposcopy. During a colposcopy (which is quite different from a procedure of a similar name, colonoscopy), your doctor examines your cervix using special viewing equipment.
Your colposcopy will determine a number of factors, including whether you've been infected with HPV or have abnormal cell growth or cervical dysplasia. Your doctor will take a tissue sample (biopsy) if he or she observes a cluster of abnormal cells, which could indicate that you have cervical cancer.
If your doctor decides to do a biopsy, most commonly the results are that the abnormal cells are benign, or non-cancerous. This is was what happened in my case, and I was simply told to have a pap smear every six months in order to monitor my condition.
For some, the results of a biopsy show that the abnormal cells are malignant, which means that they are cancerous. In this case, your doctor will discuss the next steps with you in order to effectively treat your case.
But before that point, keep in mind that abnormal pap smears are not necessarily tragic.