Going to the gynecologist is hardly on anyone’s list of favorite activities. However, scheduling regular well-woman exams is essential to ensure your health. While the procedure only takes a few minutes, it can be instrumental in saving someone’s life. But, what exactly, is the purpose of a pap smear? What does it mean if you get that dreaded phone call telling you that results were abnormal? And what’s the next step if you do get abnormal results?
What’s the purpose of a pap smear?
The purpose of a pap smear is to gather a sample of cells from your cervix — the canal that connects the lowest part of the uterus to your vagina. This is done to screen for precancerous or cancerous cells — which is crucial since early detection significantly increases the likelihood of a cure. And, since many health issues regarding your reproductive organs do not have any symptoms during its earlier stages, a pap smear may be the only way to realize there’s something wrong with your health. In fact, pap smears can detect abnormalities before they turn into a health issue.
What happens during a pap smear?
When you show up for your pap smear appointment, a healthcare professional will hand you a paper robe and direct you to the examination room. Once you’re in the room, you will be left by yourself for several minutes so that you can change into the paper robe. Before coming in, your healthcare provider will knock on the door to make sure you’re ready. You will then lay down on an examination table and place your feet on footrests (called stirrups). An OB-GYN or nurse practitioner will insert a tool called a speculum into your vagina. The sensation may be cold, but it will not hurt. This is done to keep the vaginal canal open — which makes it easier to conduct the examination.
Once the speculum is in place, the healthcare professional will use a long cotton swab to gather cells from your cervix. These cells will then be sent to a lab for testing. Therefore, you won’t know the results on the same day. Generally, no news is good news. However, if results come back abnormal, you will receive a phone call from the doctor’s office within a week.
What does it mean to get an abnormal pap smear?
Abnormal pap results mean that there was something out of the ordinary in the sample cells gathered from your cervix. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. In fact, many women who’ve been called back for further testing turn out to be fine. However, additional testing will be necessary in order to determine whether it was a false alarm or whether there is a reason for concern.
Does anything increase the risk of having an abnormal pap smear?
Yes. There are several circumstances that may cause your pap results to come back with an abnormality. The most common ones include:
- Having a weakened immune system
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Natural aging process
Despite the fact that some abnormal pap results may be a false alarm, there are also instances when they mean that precancerous or cancerous cells have been detected. In either case, further testing will need to be conducted.
What happens after an abnormal pap smear?
Once an abnormal result comes back, you will have to schedule a follow-up appointment for a more in-depth testing called a colposcopy. Once again, you will lay down on an examination table. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will apply a solution in your cervix to make it easier to detect abnormalities. The healthcare professional will then use a magnifying glass to look at your vaginal canal and cervix. If something looks like it may be a cause for concern, your healthcare provider will apply local anesthesia, then take a sample of tissue to send to a lab for a biopsy. While not painful, you may experience a pinching sensation, as well as cramping and spotting afterward.
It’s also possible for everything to look fine during a colposcopy. This is because sometimes, low-grade cell abnormalities go away on their own.
If You Need a Well-Woman’s Examination, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including well-women’s exams. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.