What’s worse than getting a Pap test? Getting the news that your Pap is abnormal. This guide will help you understand the various types of Pap abnormalities and what sort of follow-up tests and treatments they require.
Result: Normal Pap With High-risk HPV
Your Pap is “normal,” but you’re positive for high-risk HPV (human papillomavirus, the virus that can cause cervical cancer). How is it possible to have a “normal” result and be diagnosed with a virus at the same time?
Actually, you can be infected with HPV for many years without the virus causing any damage to your cervix. The positive high-risk HPV result simply means that one of the dangerous strains of HPV was found in the cells around your cervix.
Result: Atypical Squamous Cells of Unknown Significance (ASCUS)
ASCUS is the most commonly-reported Pap abnormality, and as you might have guessed, its significance is undetermined. Squamous cells are flat, scaly cells normally found in the lining of the outer cervix. If these cells have a mildly unusual (atypical) appearance under the microscope — but aren’t so unusual as to appear precancerous — the lab will call it ASCUS.
Result: Low-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (LGSIL)
The cells lining your outer cervix are displaying some early precancerous features. These abnormalities (also called lesions) are low-grade, meaning that they are not severe, but should still be taken seriously. Most of the lesions will go away on their own, especially in younger women, but about 10 percent of the time the lesions will progress to cancer if left untreated.
Result: High-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (HGSIL)
This result reflects a more worrisome (i.e., high-grade) change in your cervical cells. Up to 20 percent of these lesions will progress to cancer if left untreated, and 2 percent of women with these lesions may already have cancer. Fortunately, even these serious abnormalities can be successfully treated in almost all women.
Get Your Test, Have Less Stress
Judging from the statistics, Pap tests are one of the great public health success stories: They’re the reason that the rate of cervical cancer has fallen by more than 50 percent over the past 30 years. Pap tests detect abnormalities like the ones described above, and enable you and your provider to arrange what might be life-saving follow-up.