A pap smear is that uncomfortable test women take each year to check for cervical cancer. A doctor takes a sample of cells from the cervix, which is part of the uterus, and swabs them onto a slide for examination under a microscope. Occasionally, the cells are abnormal and further diagnostic tests are necessary.
Causes of Abnormal Pap Smears
Abnormal pap smears are caused by infections or inflammation. Herpes, recent sexual activity and yeast infections can cause pap smear results to be abnormal. Teenagers and women in their early 20s are more likely than older women to have abnormal pap smears. The most common cause of persistent abnormal pap smears is HPV, human papilloma virus. HPV is extremely common in sexually active adults and typically has no symptoms. When it’s not lurking behind the scenes, HPV is the virus that causes genital warts.
Atypical Squamous Cells
Atypical Squamous Cells (ASC) form on the surface of the cervix and come in two forms. ASC-US cells are abnormal with uncertain significance. This means there is no real explanation as to why the cells have changed. Your doctor will probably perform another pap smear to see if the cells continue to come up abnormal. ASC-H means some of the abnormal cells may be pre-cancerous. These results will probably require a procedure called a colposcopy, a test that allows your doctor to more closely examine particular sections of the cervix.
Low-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion
LSILs indicate that the cervical cells are slightly different in shape and size from normal cervical cells. They are usually caused by HPV, and your doctor will most likely perform a colposcopy to get a better idea of what condition the cells are in. Your doctor may want to perform pap smears more frequently to monitor any changes in the abnormal cells.
High-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion
HSILs show a great degree of change compared to normal cells. HSILs are usually pre-cancerous and are likely to lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. A colposcopy will probably be performed to determine the likelihood of cervical cancer.
Squamous cells on a pap smear indicate a high level of abnormality; they are evidence of cervical cancer. Your doctor will determine what additional testing and treatment to perform.