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The pap smear is an early intervention screening test used to detect cellular cervical changes. Understanding the causes of an abnormal pap smear can help ease a woman's mind and help prevent a "false positive" result. It's important to understand the emotional effects and benefits of an abnormal pap smear.
An abnormal pap smear does not always mean cervical cancer is present. Pap smears are used to detect abnormal cell changes within the cervix. Pap smears do not detect cancers of the fallopian tubes, ovaries or uterus. Pap smears may still be performed after a hysterectomy, and can be safely performed during pregnancy. Additional tests may be required to rule out STDs, as the pap smear does not.
An abnormal pap smear may be from the result of an infection or an inflammation due to herpes, trichomonas or the human papilloma virus. Menopausal cellular changes, yeast infections, the use of creams and/or suppositories, recent intercourse, carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive cancer), or invasive cancer, will also cause abnormal results.
The benefit of an abnormal pap smear means early intervention, as long as a woman keeps up-to-date on her screenings. Early detection of non-invasive cancer cells can be treated in a doctors office with a cone biopsy or LEEP procedure, saving a woman from having to have a hysterectomy, and better yet, saving her life.
An abnormal pap smear does not necessarily mean invasive cancer. An abnormal pap smear may cause anxiety, worrisome fears, feelings of anger and/or denial. Most cases of abnormal pap smear results are not invasive cancer.
It is important not to ignore an abnormal result, and to follow up on additional testing that the gynecologist may order. Maintaining annual pap smears will significantly reduce the risk of receiving an invasive cancer result.
Abstaining from intercourse for 48 hours, and not using deodorants, powders, medicines, creams and/or suppositories before the pap smear, will reduce the likelihood of a false-positive result.