A routine Pap test screens cells from your cervix for any signs of abnormal changes called dysplasia. If left untreated, dysplasia (usually caused by HPV) can develop into cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap result does not mean you have cancer, but your doctor will want to get a better look through an exam called a colposcopy. While a Pap test is only a screening, a colposcopy provides a diagnosis of dysplasia.
What is a colposcopy?
Using a lighted magnifying class called a colposcope, your doctor will examine your cervix and take a tiny tissue sample. This tissue sample is analyzed to diagnose the cause and severity of the dysplasia. Dysplasia is rated on a scale of mild, moderate or severe.
Risks and Benefits of Colposcopy
- Infection, bleeding or discomfort, especially if there is any severe dysplasia or existing cancer
- Determines if you have cervical cancer
- 10-15 minute routine procedure performed in the doctor’s office
Dysplasia usually takes years to develop into cancer and may not even reach that stage.
There are more than 100 types of HPV, 30 of which are spread from person-to-person through vaginal, anal or oral sex or even skin-to-skin contact.
There are 15 types of HPV linked to cancer of the cervix, vagina, anus and penis. Though HPV can cause cancer, few infected women actually develop cancer. Most women’s immune systems destroy HPV, especially if they are under 21.
You can decrease your risk of contracting HPV by:
- Getting the vaccine
- Limiting your number of sexual partners
- Using condoms, though they are not fully protective
- Avoiding cigarettes – smoking doubles the rate of progression