A Pap smear checks women for cervical cancer, a potentially life-threatening illness linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). During the Pap smear, Dr. King collects a few cells from the cervix, the lower part of the uterus, to send to a lab for examination. A lab technician looks at the cells to check for signs of cancer.
Healthy cells will multiply at a set rate then die off at the end of their live span. When cancer develops, the cells start to multiply at a faster rate and don't die. The accumulation of cells becomes a tumor that can spread to other parts of the body. This is cancer.
Cervical cancer is cancer in the lower part of the uterus called the cervix. This is the area right above the vagina. When exposed to various strains of the human papillomavirus, some women develop cervical cancer. It's unclear why the virus affects some and not others, though. HPV is very common, yet, only a handful of women and men develop cancer, indicating there are certainly other factors at play, such as lifestyle and possibly genetics.
Known risk factors for cervical cancer include:
Dr. King discusses all these risk factors with her patients when talking about the abnormal Pap smear results.
Abnormal results mean the lab found atypical cells in the Pap smear sample. It’s not a diagnosis of cervical cancer, though. A positive result can mean many different things depending on the type cells seen.
A reading of atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS) suggests slightly abnormal cells in the sample but no clear indication of precancer cells. Testing the sample for HPV can pinpoint the significance of the finding. A sample without HPV, for example, may mean nothing. ASCUS is just one possible result from a Pap smear. Dr. King looks at the test and readings provided and discuss them with you after your Pap smear.
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