What Does It Mean If You Have An Abnormal Smear Result?
Cervical screening tests are designed to identify the smallest problems (i.e. pre-cancerous changes) before any serious complications arise in a woman’s cervix. In orther words, they highlight pre-cancerous changes of the cervix. As a result, abnormal smear results are very common. It has been reported that one in 20 smears come back with an abnormality. So, if you’ve recently been informed that your smear was abnormal then it’s natural for you to be worried as to the severity of the changes and what implication this will have on your health.
In essence, abnormalities to cervix cells are caused by an infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This is otherwise known as the Wart Virus. It is estimated that as many as 75% of the reproductive-age population has been infected with one or more types of genital HPV. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases (approximately 95%), the virus causes no symptoms or health problems. More than 95% of HPV viruses cause no symptoms or problems. Most women will fight the infection via their immune system. For others it will progress and finally cause abnormal smears. There are about 200 different types of HPV but there are only approximately 40 strains that are spread through sexual contact and only a handful which are associated with cervical cancer. These are considered to high risk types.
What Does The Grade Of My Smear Test Mean?
An abnormal smear can be categorised as mild, moderate or severe. The medical terms are mild, moderate or severe dyskaryosis. A borderline grade is between normal and mild. If you have a low grade dyskaryosis result (mild and borderline), then you will typically be advised to have an additional smear test or a colposcopy to quantify the initial results. This is a small procedure, which feels very similar to having a smear test. The cervix is visualised using a speculum and it’s examined under magnification for evidence of low or high grade changes. Two dyes are then applied to the cervix (acetic acid and iodine) to help highlight if abnormalities are present. If the changes are confirmed to be mild in nature then a conservative approach will be recommended as it’s likely that the affected cells will go back to normal on their own.
For those who have high risk type changes (moderate to severe HPV viral infection) then you will be referred to a gynaecologist for a thorough colposcopic examination. This will establish the true nature of your cervix abnormalities. High grade smears (moderate and severe) often need to be treated. However, it’s important to recognise that cervical cancer can take up to a decade to develop. This doesn’t mean that the results can be ignored but rather that abnormal cervical screenings and colposcopy test results enable us to promptly address any issues so that future conditions can be avoided.
We highly recommend that you attend any follow-up requests your GP or gynaecologist to ensure that your cervix is healthy and unaffected by any pre-cancerous cells.
Treatment For Severe Dyskaryosis
The commonest form of treatment for severe/high grade dyskaryosis is Large Loop Excision of Transformation Zone (LLETZ). It is also known as Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP). This is commonly carried out as an outpatient procedure under local anaesthesia. After numbing the cervix with local anaesthetic a wire loop is used to remove the abnormal cells. It is a quick procedure with mild discomfort.