So your pap smear came back abnormal, what's next?

What is a colposcopy?

I am a HUGE proponent of regular pelvic exams and pap testing. But, we rarely talk about what comes after. There are a few scenarios for after you get a pap...

  1. The pap comes back as “normal,” you need not take further steps beyond following up for your next pap at the designated interval (generally 3 years).

  2. You are informed the pap smear did not get an adequate sample, and you need to repeat the pap (this isn’t a you problem, but instead an issue with the test/specimen).

  3. The pap comes back as having cervical cell changes, and your next pap is scheduled for a shorter interval (such as 6 months from your initial pap)

  4. Your pap test found cervical cell changes that require more extensive follow up, and a colposcopy is recommended.

So! What is a colpo?

I'm so glad you asked! A colposcopy, not to be confused with a colonoscopy (which goes up your bum) gets a closer look at the cells on your cervix. A speculum is inserted in your vagina, the same as when you get a pap smear. A special solution is applied that helps your cervical cells become more visible and then your cervix is viewed using a special tool that can see your cervix close up. If the person administering the colposcopy sees cells they want to look at more closely, they will take a sample of this area, called a biopsy.

While all of this may sound overwhelming and scary, I believe deeply in the power of accessible health education and disease prevention. We often avoid tests to avoid the results. By doing so, we don’t have to “deal” with whatever is going on in our body. But, when we do have information about our health, we are far more empowered to care for ourselves and remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

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