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Abnormal PAPS/HPV Testing

What is HPV?

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common virus that affects both females and males. Most types of HPV are harmless, do not cause any symptoms, and go away on their own. About 30 types of HPV are known as genital HPV since they affect the genital area. Some types are high risk and can cause cervical cancer or abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that sometimes turns into cancer. Others are low risk and can cause genital warts and changes in the cervix that are benign (abnormal but non-cancerous).


Who gets genital HPV?

Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity involving genital contact could get genital HPV. Because many people who have HPV may not show any signs or symptoms, they can transmit the virus without even knowing it. More than 6 million new cases of genital HPV are diagnosed in the United States every year.


How do I know if I have HPV?

Because HPV may not show any signs or symptoms, you probably won’t know you have it. Most women are diagnosed with HPV as a result of abnormal Pap tests. A Pap test (also known as a Pap smear) is part of a gynecological exam and helps detect abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix before they have the chance to become precancers or cervical cancer. Certain women also get additional HPV DNA co-testing. Many cervical precancers (changes that could lead to cancer) are related to HPV and can be treated successfully if detected early. That’s why early detection is so important.


What happens if I get HPV?

In most people, the body’s defenses are enough to clear HPV. If not cleared by the body, some HPV types cause genital warts. Other types cause abnormal changes in the cells lining the cervix that can lead to precancers and even turn into cervical cancer later in life.


What are abnormal cervical cells?

Abnormal cervical cells (also called cervical dysplasia) are cells in the lining of the cervix that have changed in appearance. The more severe the cervical abnormality, the more likely it is that cervical cancer could develop in the future. Most often this can take a number of years, although in rare cases it can happen within a year.


What causes abnormal cervical cells?

Abnormal cervical cells may have a number of different causes, such as an infection or inflammation, but most are caused by certain types of HPV.


How do I know if I have abnormal cervical cells?

The usual way to detect abnormal cervical cells is through a Pap test. You may have additional testing, such as repeat Pap testing, HPV DNA testing, colposcopy, and possible biopsy.


How are abnormal cervical cells treated?

Most abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix will eventually go away without treatment. If the abnormalities are mild, your gynecologist may choose to closely monitor them. If the abnormalities are more severe, removing these cells can almost always prevent cervical cancer from developing in the future. Methods commonly used to treat abnormal cervical cells include freezing, removing them using an electrical instrument, and conventional surgery. The treatment may have to be repeated if the abnormal cells reappear.


What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the part of the uterus that connects the upper part of the vagina. Cervical cancer is a serious condition that can be life threatening. When a woman becomes infected with certain high-risk types of HPV and does not clear the infection, abnormal cells can develop in the lining of the cervix. If not discovered early and treated, these abnormal cells can become cervical precancers and then possibly cancer.


Who gets cervical cancer?

About half of all females diagnosed with cervical cancer are between 35 and 55 years old. What many of these women may not realize is that they were most likely exposed to one of the high-risk types of HPV during their teens and 20s. The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2005 there were 10,370 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the United States, and 3,710 women died from the disease.


Is there a vaccine for HPV?

Yes. If you are age 26 or younger, you can get the HPV vaccine series to prevent infection with the types of HPV which are most likely to cause cervical cancer. Since this vaccine has been available, the number of abnormal Paps in this age group has been dramatically reduced.

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