In January I went to the doctor for my routine “annual” exam – pap smear, lump checks, STD tests… routine physical stuff. I received a letter in the mail from the doctor a few weeks later saying that everything was fine except that my pap smear showed some abnormal cell growth and that I should come back for another test in a few months. I was a bit disconcerted but the informality and lack of urgency in the letter led me to believe that I had nothing to worry about.
So, a few weeks ago I went to the student health center on campus to get my re-test. I decided not to return to my doctor’s office because 1) the student health center is less expensive 2) I suspected the original test was bunk and 3) I wanted a second opinion. After explaining my situation to the nurse, I was satisfied that I’d made the right decision. She suggested I take the more accurate liquid form of the pap (more expensive but more accurate) and explained to me that a positive pap smear means one of several situations/paths of action exist:
Negative (Normal)/None. Repeat in one year.
Mild Dysplasia/Repeat Pap smear in 3-6 months.
Severe Dysplasia/Colposcopy with or without cone biopsy.
Class V - Cancer cells/Several types of surgical techniques are used depending upon severity.
My results showed abnormal cell growth (dysplasia) again so I’ve now received a referral for a colposcopy – a procedure where a doctor looks at your cervix through a microscope (use your imagination!) and often takes a biopsy for additional tests.
I received the results on Monday and spent the entire day going through an oh-my-God-I-have-cancer freak out and swearing I’d make a kazillion lifestyle changes to take better care of myself. After I calmed down a bit I realized the latter was a good idea but the former was overly dramatic.
So, why am I telling this very personal information to you? Because I’ve realized how truly important getting a pap smear is. It’s pure luck that I had my pap smear and followed up. In all honesty, I chose to believe the first positive result was a lab error and didn’t really worry because I don’t think I ever fully realized why a pap smear is so important, it was just something I did because my mother insisted it was important during my pubescent years. The fact of the matter is that early detection has potentially saved my life. Cervical cancer was once the NUMBER ONE killer of American women but the pap smear has allowed doctors to identify pre-cancerous conditions like my own (especially in women in their 20’s and 30’s) that are almost always curable and sometimes even correct themselves. It takes several years for cervical cancer to develop but the majority of women that do get it have skipped pap smears and missed the window of opportunity for correcting the pre-cancerous stages. Cervical cancer typically has no noticeable symptoms so if you or your girlfriend or your mom or your co-worker hasn’t had a pap smear lately, make a point to have it taken care of right away and follow up on any positive results. Time is of the essence.
Posted by sarah at April 25, 2003 10:04 PM