No, most abnormal results are not due to cancer, but are caused by other issues, including hormonal fluctuations and infections. The most common cause of an abnormal Pap test result is HPV infection. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a very common family of viruses that wind up infecting most sexually-active people at some point. In most cases, HPV clears up on its own, but in some cases, it can cause warts and increase the risks for certain cancers.
If you have an abnormal Pap test result, you may have a second Pap test to confirm the abnormal results, or you may undergo a diagnostic exam called colposcopy, which uses a magnifying instrument and a special solution to highlight and examine abnormal areas in the cervix. In some cases, a biopsy may be performed to obtain a very small sample of tissue that can be examined under a microscope. Once the results of the biopsy are known, additional testing or treatment may be prescribed.
Colposcopy is performed in much the same way as your regular pelvic exam. Once you're on the exam table, a speculum will be used to gently widen your vagina and a solution will be applied to the walls of your cervix and vagina to help highlight any abnormal tissue. The colposcope will be positioned at the vaginal opening and a light and magnifier will be used to look closely for areas that might need additional evaluation. If a biopsy is needed, it will be performed at the same time. The entire procedure takes about 15 minutes to perform right in the office.
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