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âMy Pap Smear Was Abnormal! Now What?â
So you just found out that your pap test was “abnormal”, and your not sure what that means. The pap test (formerly known as the pap smear) is a screening test performed by your doctor each year to determine your risk of cervical cancer. The pap test was first developed by George Papanikolaou in 1941. Since that time the rate of cervical cancer cases and deaths have dramatically decreased in many developed countries, especially here in the U.S. Current recommendations call for pap testing to begin at age 21, or three years after first sexual intercourse. The test involves the collection of cells from the cervix in a quick, and relatively painless process during your annual gynecology examination.

It has now been determined that the vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus is also known to cause genital warts (Condyloma). It is quickly becoming one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). More specifically, HPV has numerous genetic subtypes, some of which are more likely to lead to cancer of the cervix and genital warts. Your doctor can now order tests to specifically identify these high-risk subtypes of HPV.

While not all HPV infections lead to cervical cancer, or genital warts, only your doctor can determine your risk for these diseases. In most cases, if your pap test is abnormal, your immune system will eliminate (cure) the HPV virus, and your repeat pap test will likely be normal. The key to ensuring that the virus’ effects are not progressing is to follow your doctor’s instructions for FOLLOW-UP. Most of the time this will mean simply repeating the pap test more frequently, but may also involve further evaluation, or biopsies of the cervix.

Other steps you can take to decrease your risk of HPV infection, cervical cancer and genital warts are the following;

•    See your doctor every year after age 21 or three years after first intercourse for a pap test
•    Avoid smoking
•    Consistent use of condoms if not in a monogamous relationship
•    Have fewer sexual partners
•    Avoiding sexual intercourse early in life

One of the newest steps someone can take to decrease their risk of cervical cancer and genital warts is to ask their doctor about Gardasil vaccine. This vaccine was recently developed against the four most common types of HPV associated with the majority of cervical cancers, and genital warts. It is recommended that any female age 9-26 receive the series of vaccines (3 injections over a 6 month period), including any women who may have previously been infected with HPV.

In summary, the best way to ensure your general health, and specifically your gynecologic health, is to visit your doctor once a year or more as directed. Just remember, if you have an abnormal pap test keep two words in mind…….FOLLOW-UP!

   âMy Pap Smear Was Abnormal! Now What?â
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