Most women will have a completely normal result during routine cervical screening, but about one in 20 will have abnormal cervical smear tests. If you’ve been told that you have abnormal cells, you may be wondering what this means. What is your doctor actually looking for when you have a cervical smear?
Testing Your Cells
After your cells have been collected they will be placed on a glass slide so that they can be viewed under a microscope. The cells will be stained with some special dyes that can colour different kinds of cells differently. One of the dyes will stain the nucleus of each cell, which holds your DNA.
Normal cervical cells have a recognisable shape, size and colour when stained, so any cells that don’t look as expected will stand out. Some kinds of changes to your cells don’t have anything to do with cervical cancer. They may be caused by a yeast infection, a benign cyst, or hormonal changes related to pregnancy or the menopause. However, if changes are detected that are known to be associated with cervical cancer, you can tell you have an abnormal result. Abnormal cervical smear tests may require further investigation and treatment to eliminate the problem cells and prevent them from becoming cancerous.
Abnormal Cervical Smear Tests
The kinds of changes that could indicate you are at risk of developing cervical cancer usually relate to the nuclei of the cells. If the nuclei are taking up more of the dye than usual or if the material inside the nucleus doesn’t look as it should, it could be a sign of changes in your DNA that might eventually develop into cancer. These kinds of changes are referred to as dyskaryosis and they can be mild, moderate or severe. Sometimes cells will become abnormal and then revert back to normal, but they can also become more abnormal and develop into cancer, so they may need to be removed.