Someone asked us:
I have received an abnormal pap smear and have been called in for a colposcopy. Is it likely that this is HPV?
Yes - it is likely that the abnormal cells detected from your Pap test are the result of HPV. But no need to freak out yet - there are more than 100 types of HPV (human papilloma virus), and most have no harmful effect at all and go away on their own. Certain types of HPV may cause cell changes that sometimes lead to cervical cancer and certain other genital and throat cancers. These are called high-risk types.
A colposcopy will provide a closer look at whatever cervical cell changes were detected during your Pap test. During a colposcopy, a health care provider uses a colposcope — an instrument that looks like a pair of binoculars with a bright light mounted on a stand. Depending on what the health care provider sees, they’ll either recommend a follow-up Pap test in a few months, or they’ll collect a small amount of tissue in order to perform a biopsy.
Sometimes, the biopsy is also the treatment. The health care provider may be able to remove all of the abnormal cells during the colposcopy and biopsy procedure. If so, no further treatment is needed.
Another procedure may be needed for further treatment if it’s determined you do have pre-cancerous cells. The following procedures are very effective at removing the abnormal areas of the cervix and preventing cervical cancer:
• Cryotherapy — abnormal tissue is frozen off
• LEEP — abnormal tissue is removed using a thin wire loop that carries an electrical current
• Laser — abnormal tissue is destroyed with a laser beam
• Cone biopsy — a cone-shaped wedge is cut out of the cervix
You should know that HPV is extremely common, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that as many as 80 percent of women — and 50 percent of men and women combined — will get HPV at some point in their lives. However, most of those infections go away or are suppressed by the body within one to two years, without causing any problems that require treatment.
- Emily at Planned Parenthood