Understanding Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Results
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Cervical cancer screening is an important part of preventing cancer or detecting it early. The Pap test checks for cell changes on a woman’s cervix that could turn into cancer if they are not treated.
Path to improved health
Your Pap test will come back with one of three results:
Normal (or negative). This means no cell changes were found.
Unclear (or inconclusive). This result is common. It means it looks like your cells could be abnormal. This could be because of an infection, such as a yeast infection or the herpes virus. Hormone changes from pregnancy or menopause can also affect test results.
Abnormal (or positive). This means cell changes were found. In most cases, it does not mean you have cervical cancer. There are different abnormal test results. These are the most common.
- ASC-US – Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance
This is the most common abnormal finding. It is sometimes considered an unclear result rather than abnormal. Squamous cells form the surface of your cervix. This result means the squamous cells don’t look normal. This could be because of an infection, including HPV.
- AGC – Atypical glandular cells
Glandular cells are cells that produce mucus and are located in your cervix and uterus. This result means some glandular cells don’t look normal. These cell changes are usually more serious than ASC (atypical squamous cells). This means there is a greater risk that precancer or cancer is present.
- LSIL – Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions
This result is sometimes called mild dysplasia. It indicates low-grade changes that are usually caused by an HPV infection. Changes may go away on their own.
- HSIL – High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions
This result is also called moderate or severe dysplasia. It means there are abnormal or precancerous cells present and they have a higher chance of progressing to cancer.
- ASC-H – Atypical squamous cells, cannot exclude HSIL
Some cells are not normal, and there is a possibility that HSIL is also present.
- AIS – Adenocarcinoma in situ
An advanced lesion was found in the glandular tissue. It could turn into cancer if left untreated.
- Cervical cancer cells (squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma)
Pap tests can detect cancer cells, but it is rare. Cancer usually does not have time to develop in women who get regular cancer screenings.
If your Pap test is abnormal, your healthcare provider may recommend more tests, procedures, follow-up care, or treatment. This could include a colposcopy. During this test, a healthcare provider will use a magnifying lens to look more closely at your cervix. They can also take a sample of tissue (biopsy) to test for cancer.
Cells of the cervix go through many changes before they turn into cancer. A Pap test can show if your cells are going through these changes. If caught and treated early, cervical cancer can be treated.
Things to consider
Abnormal or precancerous cells are often found before cancer develops. If further testing shows that you have precancerous cells, your healthcare provider will want to remove them. They will help you decide which treatment is best for you. Sometimes, they will recommend watchful waiting. This could include more frequent Pap tests. Other common treatments include:
- Cryotherapy – Abnormal tissue is frozen off.
- Laser therapy – A focused beam of light destroys abnormal tissue.
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) – A thin metal loop with an electric current removes abnormal tissue.
- Conization – Abnormal tissue is removed with a scalpel in a cone-shaped piece.
If invasive cancer is found, treatment will depend on how far the cancer has spread. The most common treatments include:
- Surgery – The cancerous tissue is removed in an operation.
- Radiation – High-energy rays like X-rays shrink or kill the cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy – Powerful medicines, in pill form or injected into the veins, shrink or kill the cancer.
Treatment of invasive cancer often involves a team of specialists. This could include your primary healthcare provider, a gynecologist, and an oncologist (cancer specialist). You will all work together to develop the best treatment plan for you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Canadian Cancer Society