The Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer and precancerous conditions. Pap smears should begin at the age of 21 and should be done every 3 years after that, as long as they are normal. At the age of 30, co-screening for high-risk strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) is added because we now know that HPV is the cause of cervical cancer. The Pap smear does not screen for any other types of cancer, such as ovarian and uterine cancer.
Having an abnormal Pap smear is not unusual, and it doesn’t mean that you have cervical cancer or even a pre-cancer. The Pap smear is a screening test, and if the screening test is positive, then more focused diagnostic evaluation of the cervix is needed. This is called a colposcopy examination, in which the cervix is viewed in detail under magnification, and small biopsies (about 3 mm in diameter) of abnormal areas are taken. These biopsies are then evaluated by the pathologists at Quest Diagnostics (our reference lab), and the results determine whether there is a pre-cancerous condition that requires treatment.
Dr. Clark provides colposcopy evaluations and biopsies in her office. The results are available within a week. In many cases, no treatment is needed, and all that is required is careful continuing follow-up with Pap smears.