The majority of abnormal Pap smears are not caused by cervical cancer. The more likely cause of abnormal Pap smear results is inflammation of a vaginal or cervical infection.

Because the Pap smear can only screen for potential problems, not diagnose them, your gynecologist may want to take a closer look at your cervix to determine the cause of your abnormal Pap smear results. He will perform an examination called a colposcopy. Your doctor may order this procedure if you have Pap smear results that:

  • Indicate cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer
  • show evidence of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
  • show first-time or repeat atypical squamous cells of undetermined

Your gynecologist may also order a colposcopy if your cervix appears abnormal during your pelvic exam and Pap smear, or if you have a history of prenatal DES exposure.

Colposcopy is a simple, 10- to 15-minute painless procedure that is painless and performed in a gynecologist's office. You are positioned on the examination table like you are for a Pap smear, and an acetic acid (such as common table vinegar) is placed on the cervix.

Your physician will use a colposcope -- a large, electric microscope that is positioned approximately 30 cm from the vagina -- to view your cervix. A bright light on the end of the colposcope lets the gynecologist clearly see the cervix and determine if a biopsy is needed.


The loop electrosurgical excision procedure, or LEEP procedure, is one of several procedures your doctor has available to help diagnose and treat abnormal cervical cells.  LEEP uses a thin wire loop electrode which is attached to an electrosurgical generator. The generator transmits a painless electrical current that quickly cuts away the affected cervical tissue in the immediate area of the loop wire. This causes the abnormal cells to rapidly heat and burst, and separates the tissue as the loop wire moves through the cervix.

This technique allows your physician to send the excised tissue to the lab for further evaluation which insures that the lesion was completely removed, as well as allowing for a more accurate assessment of the abnormal area.

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