A Pap smear is a microscopic examination of cells in an effort to identify cervical cancer or precancerous irregularities in the cells. Until recently, most doctors and laboratories categorized Pap test results in five classes, with Cclass 1 being a normal finding and class 5 being a positive finding of cancer of the cervix.
Under that system, class 2 means that the Pap test found abnormal cells in the sample, but no evidence of cancer. Doctors use the term dysplasia to describe these abnormal cells, which have gone through some kind of change so that they don’t look like typical cervical cells under the microscope.
While I’m sure you can’t help but be concerned, your results are not cause for alarm. Treatment, if any, will depend on the exact nature of the Pap test findings, as well as your personal health history. With class 2, there is a good chance your doctor will advise taking no action at all except for repeating the Pap smear in six months. Sometimes an inflammation or infection causes some irregularities and the follow-up Pap test comes out normal.
Many women in their 30s and 40s have had results like this. Treatment for a yeast infection or another check-up in six months may follow a normal test. If there is cause for cancer, your doctor may recommend colposcopy, a closer look at the cervix and a biopsy.
Abnormal cells in the cervix may develop into cancer, but it may take years for that to happen. Cervical cancer itself progresses slowly, too. When detected before it spreads beyond the cervix, the disease is highly curable. At the precancerous level, treatment is considered preventive and success rates have been tremendous. Thanks to early detection and treatment, death rates from cervical cancer have declined dramatically.
By the way, in the past decade or so, doctors and pathologists have changed the way we report Pap test results. The recommended method today is called the Bethesda system. It is a much more detailed and precise system because it provides doctors with a better picture of the changes that have taken place in the cells of the cervix.
However, the terms used are somewhat less friendly and accessible to patients. In their simplest form, the new methods categorize Pap results as normal, mild, moderate or severe dysplasia, (or some range, such as mild-to-moderate dysplasia), carcinoma in situ, (meaning cancer that hasn’t spread), or invasive cancer.