My Colposcopy

Last Friday I went to the gynecologist and had a colposcopy. I had the procedure because about a month ago I my pap smear came back with abnormal results. For those of you who have never gone through this experience I just wanted to share mine with you.
Abnormal pap results are not common, but they are not exactly uncommon either. According to the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, about 1 in every 20 pap results can be considered abnormal. Once I heard about my results and started talking to friends and relatives, I found out that many of them had had the same experience. It was comforting because, truth be told, I was very scared.
I felt so stupid, but when the doctor called me to inform me of my abnormal results I didn’t even know what that meant. I knew that the results were SUPPOSED to be normal but I didn’t know what abnormal pap smears could mean. Then she said cancer. I started to cry at my desk at work. How had I been so uninformed about my own body? I just went every year to get refills on birth control!
I composed myself and listened to the doctor and she said that cancer was very very unlikely. She told me that I would need to schedule an appointment for a colposcopy in the near future so they could biopsy some cervical cells to take a closer look. She said the most likely outcome was that I would need pap tests more often than once a year.
A colposcopy basically is a procedure that allows your doctor to take a closer look at your cervix in order to see things that may not be seen during a normal exam. If they see any abnormalities they biopsy them. The whole thing usually takes anywhere from 5-15 minutes.

It doesn’t sound too bad, but I was very nervous. I was worried it would hurt and worried about the possible results. The doctor told me to take some Ibuprofen before my appointment to lessen any pain I might feel. Even though I’m a grown woman I asked my mother to come with me because, like I said, I was scared and I knew she’d ask questions that I’d forget to ask out of nervousness.
When we got there the doctor was very nice and informative about everything. She went over the procedure before we started and tried to calm me as much as possible. I had been told by some that had gone through this that it didn’t really hurt at all, but for me it hurt. The speculum hurt more than during my regular pap, maybe it was because the opening had to be a little bigger. Next, the doctor put vinegar in my cervix. It sounds strange I know, but it’s what they use to highlight the abnormalities so they know what to biopsy. The vinegar stung a little bit, but that really wasn’t so bad. Next was the actual biopsies. She took two. It just felt like little pinches but given the location in my body of the pinching, you can imagine it was painful. It also made my stomach cramp a bit, which she said was expected. Next came a little brush-type instrument. It was used to collect cells from farther in the cervix that couldn’t easily be reached. It apparently wasn’t supposed to hurt but it felt like scratching to be honest. Again, more stomach cramping. Finally, the pain was over and the doctor applied this weird looking brown paste to the biopsied areas of my cervix to stop any bleeding, took the speculum out and I was done. It all lasted about 10 minutes I want to say.
For the rest of the day I was in a lot of pain. I took another round of Ibuprofen which helped a little bit but my vaginal area was just sore. I also bled a little. It was just spotting but I had to wear a pad because after the procedure you’re not supposed to use tampons for 1-2 weeks. The paste that the doctor applied to heal the biopsies also discharged in what looked to be like coffee grounds. It was pretty weird to be honest.
By the next day I was back to normal. No pain and no spotting. Now the only thing I have to worry about are the results. They take about a week to get to me so until then I’m trying not to think the worst.
I just wanted to share this experience with you all. I’m 26 and I had no idea about any of this and that embarrassed me. Women should know about this. I had comprehensive sex ed but this isn’t covered there. No one tells you about this stuff until there’s a problem. Well now you’ve read about my experience so hopefully if any of you have to go through it you won’t be scared like me, or at least not as scared.
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  • Wonderwall

    Thanks for sharing! Like you, I always cross my fingers for “normal” but had no idea what an abnormal test result might mean. Thanks for sharing so openly!

  • alixana

    Thanks for sharing! I just had one too, 2 weeks ago.
    One thing that my doctor told me is that the removal of the abnormal areas is not just for a biopsy, but to give healthy cells a chance to grow in where the abnormal ones were. She also said that on the follow-up pap in 6 months, 70% of the tests come back normal.
    Also, she said when you get a pap smear once a year, any abnormal result will catch the abnormality so early on in the spectrum that goes from abnormal to cancer that it’s usually more of an annoyance (since you have to monitor it more closely through extra pap smears) than it is something to be worried about. She says most of her cervical cancer patients are people who come in because they’re having problems and say, “Oh, I haven’t had a pap smear in years.” Which is what made me realize, oh yeah, this is why we get yearly pap smears, so we can catch it early and prevent it from turning into cancer. I never really thought of it that way before, even though I knew that pap smears were to detect cervical cancer.
    For the procedure itself, the worst part for me was the larger than normal speculum. Everything else was mostly uncomfortable rather than painful. My doctor was very good about letting me know ahead of time each thing she was doing, including when she promised that the first portion would just involve her looking and not touching. The poking around to get the bleeding to stop felt worse than the pinching, I think she spent more time stopping the bleeding than she did making me bleed in the first place. Then I felt burning for the rest of the day, but the next day that was gone.
    My spotting lasted longer than yours – I think I went about 3 days. My doctor warned me that the stuff she used to stop the bleeding would cause grey discharge, and that I shouldn’t be alarmed by it.
    One thing that I liked that my doctor did was that she had me come in for a consultation before scheduling the colposcopy. She said that they never used to do that, but that they now believed it improved patient care to have a fully clothed meeting in an office rather than an exam room where they could explain everything and give the patient time to think about questions, rather than calling and saying, “Surprise, your results are abnormal, please schedule a procedure.”

  • dormouse

    Thanks for taking the time to write all this out. You’re absolutely right, I had no idea about any of this stuff. I like that you took your mom with you! My first pap smear was traumatic and hurt really bad, but even that seems to pale in comparison to this procedure. I wish doctors would be more honest about how things might hurt. (If they say it will hurt a little, and it hurts a lot, you feel like there is something wrong with you or that something is going wrong in the procedure). Anyhow, I hope you get good results and all this worry was for nothing!

  • khw

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  • rebekah

    thank you so much for sharing this. I have uterine cancer and I am 18. I was never told any of the stuff that happens to our reproductive organs. I never really knew anything about what was going on until it was too late. I think that we need to have a better understanding of the way our reproductive tissues work. Nobody knows anything about this stuff until we get back test results that are abnormal. Hopefully the more women who start to speak out about their experiences, the more information we will be able to know about

  • visibility

    thanks for sharing your experience. i did not specialize in obgyn, but from what i remember in med school, your experience sounds pretty typical and you’ve presented it in an approachable and honest way. i’m sure many women will benefit by reading your post – as you stated, you realized this isn’t as uncommon as one might think!
    as aside into the amazing thing that is our biology, i will say that cervices are pretty cool – i have seen huge cervical biopsies that leave a large, obvious defect in the cervix, but on the follow up visit, it’s like you can’t tell anything was done at all. the tissue regenerates so perfectly.
    our bodies are remarkably resilient, and paradoxically, scarily fragile. at the risk of sounding like a m/paternalistic (female) physician, i’m proud of you for taking care of yours!

  • Nettle Syrup

    Like all the other posters, thanks so much for writing this. We need to TALK about these kinds of things, so we can be well informed.

  • Emily Forte

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I had never even thought about this before. I usually get panic attacks for the regular pap smears but it definitely helps knowing what I’m going into. I hope for you that your results turn out great!

  • Femgineer

    Your experience sounds similar to mine. I’ve had two colposcopies and will have to have another this fall. I had similar pain, but only minor cramping during the rest of the day.
    For my first colposcopy, I thought I would be able to go to work after the procedure, but I was cramping too badly and just didn’t feel too great. So I went home, put on PJs and watched TV on my couch. :)

  • aliciamaud74

    I had this, too, and my results turned out fine.
    I hope that will be the case for you, too, and I wish I had the chance to read an account like this before I went. There was a fair amount of discomfort for me, too, and I was somewhat surprised by it, which seemed to me to make it more traumatic.
    I was REALLY glad I brought a good friend with me so she could drive home—it wasn’t that I was in too much pain to drive, but I felt a little shaky from the stress of not knowing what it was going to feel like, and being nervous about the test, so it was good to have support from a great woman friend on the way home.

  • stellarose

    I know you are all going to hate and curse me for this, but as a relatively “seasoned” lady who has herself gone through the abnoram pap experience and seen almost every woman my age I know go through it in her teens and 20s, plus having lived in the UK where they approach this slightly differently, my honest opinionis that American women who have access to regular healthcare are over monitored for this, and I think it causes more worry and arguably unnecessary invasive testing than its worth.
    My aunt had serious cervical cancer that almost killed her and had her sick for YEARS, so I don’t take this lightly. But I spoke to several docs and midwives in the UK (where they do paps every three years and I think also allow slightly abnormal paps a grace period to resolve on their own w/o biopsy) tell me that they had looked at the studies, and the annual pap approach does not have enough early detection benefits to outweigh the false positives and risk of infection from testing and followup.
    I only say this because I’m always supersuspicious of US healthcare practices (because of the financial incentives stemming from our system) and I think we should not take what docs recommend as the end-all best decision. We should research our testing options and benefits ourselves, of course taking into account our particular circumstances (in this case, the degree of abnormality of the pap_
    I also had abnormal paps when I was 19, I declined a biopsy, got repeat paps every 6 months, and after a year they resolved on their own. That was my choice looking at all the data, but I’ve had several friends who were not even presented with this as a option, and that troubles me.

  • llevinso

    Well I was never told that I HAD to have a colposcopy. It was what my doctor recommended and then she gave me several websites to look at and do some research. After a few days I called to discuss it some more with her and schedule an appointment. I don’t know anyone that has been forced to undergo this procedure.
    However, I’d much rather undergo 5-15 minutes of pain and a day of discomfort then 3-6 months of waiting around to HOPE that my abnormal results cleared up on their own. Waiting just this week to get my results back has been agony (I should get them back very soon). And what if they didn’t clear up on their own? I would’ve just spent 6 months doing absolutely nothing about it when I could’ve known about it right away and been taking steps to fight it. But that’s me.

  • llevinso

    I’m so glad everyone appreciates this post of mine. I figured a lot of people were in my same boat and didn’t really know much about this kind of thing.
    Waiting for the results has been really hard. I’m supposed to get them today but the one thing that annoys me about my doctor is it’s hard to get her on the phone (with everything else she is great though). But thanks for the warm wishes :)

  • sk1

    when i had my first colposcopy i was also very afraid of finding out i had cancer but my doctor told me that when she first started doing colposcopies ten years ago she’d do like one or two a week and that now she was doing multiple a day and most were far from cancerous. she felt like maybe it was overkill but she couldn’t blame people for wanting to be preventative either. i had been getting my pap and check-ups at a lovely midwife center but (by their admittance) because they were not M.D.’s they felt extra cautious about abnormal paps and automatically pushed for a colposcopy. because i also tested positive for some of the presumed cancer causing strains of hpv there was more of a risk which also worried them. after my next pap was also abnormal i decided to wait on having another colposcopy for a year. when i was still having abnormal paps i got another colposcopy and the gynocologist i went to recommended i stick with her practice for paps because she would be better at knowing when i actually needed a colposcopy vs just keeping up with regular pap tests. i continued to have abnormal paps but by having a sensitive doctor i was able to avoid overdoing it with tons of colposcopies. after three years my last pap was normal! i just had another one recently that i haven’t gotten the results back for yet, along with another hpv test, fingers crossed my immune system kick that out too! (this reminds me that i should call and see if my results are ready yet.)

  • monday

    Again, thank you so much for posting this. My doctor called me last December saying the same thing. I’m 21 years old, and I never thought this would happen to me. I was so traumatized when I went in to see the OBGYN that I just started crying during the procedure. My doctor wasn’t as good as yours, and she handed me a box of tissues and told me that “it wasn’t a big deal.” I changed doctors.
    They usually don’t tell you that it’s common that some of the cells they scraped may come out up to 2 weeks after the colpolscopy. That really scared me when that happened, so be aware of that.
    Also, you’re not supposed to have sex for 2 weeks after the procedure, so schedule accordingly, folks! :)
    I have another colposcopy next week because my results are still coming back abnormal, but I’d much rather do this than have to be treated for cancer if the abnormal cells don’t disappear on their own.

  • red_haired_dancer

    Yeah, I agree it’s really important for women to share experiences like this so that we don’t feel like we’re alone or feel like if we told someone about it, they’d freak out. When I got my colposcopy, the physician’s assistant apparently splashed vinegar accidentally on the doctor’s lab coat, and she sort of gave a “whoops” giggle, and since I couldn’t see what they were doing, lying on my back, the doctor said, “I’m getting a vinegar bath over here, that’s why we’re laughing.” Luckily for me, I didn’t feel the pinch and I had very little spotting. I was very appreciative of my body for that, haha!

  • BrandiM

    I’ve had this done twice, myself. The first time when I was 21 & four months pregnant. My own doctor thought abnormal paps automatically mean cancer, so he & my mother freaked out for a moment since I was pregnant. Then he did a little research and realized it wasn’t a cancer sentence necessarily. I wasn’t worried. He was a family practitioner. Now I go to an OB/GYN. :)
    The second time I was 30. After this one I had to have outpatient surgery, actually. My doctor had to laser precancerous cells off my cervix. Bit scarier! But all went well. It’s been 3+ years since that and my paps have been normal (knock wood).
    I do remember the vinegar stinging a bit and being very uncomfortable, especially when I was pregnant. But I was lucky and didn’t have cramping or spotting. Now, after the surgery I had funky discharge for several weeks (lasered cervix, ew).

  • cherrypievintage

    I had to go through the same thing in college at age 19. I was scared out of my mind! These are things they didn’t talk about in high school (over 12 years ago) and certainly never mentioned how uncomfortable and painful it could be. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but I’m also glad that you wrote about it.
    I went to what wasn’t my normal doctor, so nothing really was explained about what was going on. All she did was talk about “Oh we’ve done this at least 5 times this week, you must of all slept with the same guy, huh?” Um, what? Is all I could think! How’s that for a fantastic visit? Why don’t ya just call me a slut and slap a band aid on my vagina?!?
    Then the whole going back for multiple paps, getting the ‘mild dysplasia’ notices, HPV talks and pamphlets, all that fun stuff. THINGS that would of been great to know BEFORE the fun sex free for all of college years. I thought Herpes was the worst that could happen. That’s what you get when all your sex ed before is “Wait till you’re married, here’s a birthing video”.
    Which is why my day job now is to go into high schools and talk about these things to women. I don’t want anyone ending up like I did and have to go through all that. I’ll cross my fingers for you!

  • InfamousQBert

    fuck. i’m so sorry. please take as many hugs as you’re comfortable with.

  • caprette

    Thank you so much for posting this. I had my first colposcopy a few weeks ago. I think I was really lucky–when my pap smear came back as abnormal, the nurse practitioner who did my pap assured me that this is quite common, and that in all likelihood it isn’t anything, but they just wanted to make sure.
    I read up a little bit about colposcopies before I went into the procedure, and I was really, really nervous. But I had a really great OB/GYN do the procedure. She explained everything to me in detail, but didn’t dumb it down or anything–as a science major, I really appreciate that! She then explained everything to me as she was doing it. The acetic acid solution stung a little bit, and the biopsy felt like minor cramping. Afterwards, the only discomfort I felt was tingling from the acetic acid, and that was gone a few hours later. Overall, it felt more weird and uncomfortable than actually painful. Now I have to get pap smears every 6 months until I get three normal ones in a row, and then I can go back to getting them every year.
    It turned out that I had a few lesions caused by a strain of HPV. This surprised me because I got the HPV vaccine before I was ever sexually active, but the doctor said that the vaccine only covers the 4 most dangerous strains, and there are hundreds of other ones that aren’t a big deal or just go away on their own. I have one of those.
    I really agree with everyone else that this is something that should be covered in high school sex ed. We really didn’t talk much at all about sexual health in my high school. It would be fantastic if it were part of the curriculum to explain why it’s a good idea to see a gynecologist by age 18/when first becoming sexually active, why yearly pap smears are important, and what to expect. And guys should know about this too! (Especially I spend my whole colposcopy resenting the fact that men do not have to go through this at all…)

  • monday

    I just wanted to clarify that even the 4 types of HPV the vaccine covers can, and often do, clear on their own.

  • Logrus

    Last Friday I went to the gynecologist and had a colposcopy.
    Am I the only one who thought: “Your gynecologist has really terrible aim.”

  • virago

    I had a colposcopy earlier this summer because my pap smears kept coming back as chronic inflammation. They didn’t know why hence the colposcopy. Actually, the procedure wasn’t that bad. It felt like a bad menstrual cramp, but it was over in like 10 minutes. However, the results showed that I had mild dysplasia (abnormal cells, but not cancerous). Anyway, I had what is called a LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure). It sounded scary, but the procedure wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Again, more like a bad menstrual cramp. I have to go back in 6 months for another pap smear to see if the inflammation is gone. Hopefully, it is.

  • jellyleelips

    Um. I don’t get what you’re saying at all.

  • jellyleelips

    My colposcopy experience should be a warning. I am incredibly sensitive to any feeling in my reproductive organs, which is great for sex, bad for doctor visits. I was basically freaking out during the entire procedure, and when it was finished, I sat up almost immediately. BIG MISTAKE. I guess all the adrenaline that was pumping through my body during the procedure as a response to the stress suddenly dissipated, which has the unfortunate side effect of causing a brownout. Or, in other words, I fainted! My heart rate was around 40 (it’s usually around 65) and my BP was 80/40 (it’s usually right around the average, 120/80). I had to sit in the procedure room, still naked from the waist down except for a white piece of paper, drinking little kid’s fruit punch from a juice box while two nurses kept watch over me for about 30 minutes. Not too fun! So my advice is, if you panic easily about medical procedures, pain, or anything touching your genitals and internal reproductive organs in a non-sexual way, do not sit up, do not move, until you have completely calmed down after the procedure.

  • Logrus

    Reading it too quickly it looks like “colonoscopy”.

  • jellyleelips

    I promise I’m not trying to be rude or sarcastic, but are you male-bodied? I guess if I were male-bodied and it were impossible for me to have a colposcopy, I could see how you would immediately think of colonoscopy. But, hate to break it to you, colposcopies are quite common for female-bodied people and I don’t think many female-bodied people would immediately think of colonoscopies. I could be wrong, but I feel like mostly male-bodied people would think what you thought, and female-bodied people would miss the joke.

  • Janel

    Lara – I am 26 too and had this happen to me at the beginning of the year. I try to take very good care of myself and was in shock when I found out that my results were abnormal. Because I am a self-proclaimed “health nut.” I did a ton of research on what was happening to me and found out a lot of information. First, if you are under a lot of stress this could effect your body in countless ways and effect the results of your pap smear. Boy was this true! It was my last semester of graduate school and stress was not even the word! Anyway, I was advised to take a high quality multivitamin, which I did already and you must take folic acid which is probably in a quality multi. Finally, it is very important to take antioxidants, such as those found in grape pips and pine bark. Some popular brand names are Pycnogenol and Proflavenol (which can be found at Whole Foods). It was recommeded to me, as I am sure it is for other women, to have another pap smear 6 months later to ensure that you are “back to normal.”
    After 6 months I was fine, but jeeze I was so worried when I first found out…in my last semester of graduate school…I was like now you are going to say cancer to me – it just didn’t see right!
    Anyway, every woman should buy this book: “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” by Dr. Christiane Northrup. Dr. Northrup is a OB/GYN and created a magnificent work of art which is my bible. Everything that I know about myself I read in this book. It is excellent and is highly recommended to women of all ages. The information that I cited in this posted came from this book…again I can’t say enough about this book except pick up a copy asap!

  • Logrus

    Yeah I suppose, but my female partner read it the same way.
    I think it’s reflective of how often you hear the word “colonoscopy” compared to “colposcopy” in general.

  • Katie

    I had to have one of these last year too. I was convinced it would be cancer. I’ve had cancer before (not vaginal) so I just kept telling myself it would be like last time.
    Finally the day of the procedure came and I was so freaked out that the doctor would do the procedure because she was afraid it would hurt me too much. So she perscribed some Xanax and sent me to an actual OBGYN.
    I went to the new doctor and she was very nice about it…. Moreso than my general care doctor. My test results came back with more abnormalities.
    If that happens you’ll probably have to have a LEEP procedure where they’ll electrically remove the abnormal regions of the cervix. They numb you for that so you won’t feel anything after the needle prick. I had similar pain after that procedure that i did after the colposcopy.
    I was in the same boat as to not knowing anything about this procedure. Hopefully everything comes back normal for you. It is common for cells to change as your body does. 26 is not the age for cervical cancer. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • visibility

    even the american guidelines recommend routine paps every 2-3 years or so, but only for people who meet certain criteria. I have lifted this straight from the ACOG site (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) – this info is addressed to laypeople:
    “Women younger than 30 years should have a Pap test every year. If you are older than 30 years and have had three normal Pap tests in a row, you may not need a Pap test every year. You may only need one every 2 or 3 years. If the results of your Pap test are abnormal, or if you have had abnormal results in the past, your doctor may suggest having a Pap test more often. Certain risk factors might mean that you should be tested every year, even if you have had several normal results.”

  • krissy

    I had an abnormal pap several years ago, and all my NP said about it was that I had to come back in 3-4 months instead of a year to have another one. So I did; it was normal. I had another one another three months later, and then six months later, so I got back on my normal schedule, and everything has been fine since then. She never even suggested any other sort of procedure, and she said that if you’re having regular paps done, the first “abnormal” one isn’t something to worry about too much. So there are practitioners in the US who won’t try to freak you out about it, etc. FYI, I was also in graduate school at the time and my NP also mentioned the possibility of stress. I guess that just like any other part of your body (think about your skin breaking out or feeling dry, or sore throats, or tense muscles, or twitchy eyes, or whatever), extra stress can make your cervix look or perform “abnormally” for a while.

  • camelshoes

    Hi all, this is my first comment at Feministing. To the OP, thanks for posting this – definitely need more open discussion about it!
    I had an abnormal pap smear a couple of years ago, followed by a colposcopy and then a LEEP (aka LLETZ) procedure. It was all very scary, and I took my Mum with me too! I had a negative experience with the gyn. who when I asked about gardasil told me it was too late because I almost certainly had HPV. His manner was rather condescending, as if I was silly for asking questions and somehow dirty for having HPV. After my LEEP procedure (I had mine under general anaesthetic) I went to get a second opinion re: gardasil and found a GP who agreed that even if I did have one type of HPV, a vaccine could still protect against the others. I had to have more frequent pap smears, but I got a normal back last year and I’m back to every 2 year smears.
    At the time when I was going through the above, I found this useful UK website, Jo’s Trust” ,
    which is a cervical cancer charity, and has an excellent forum where women can talk about pap smears, colposcopies, cervical cancer, etc. and you can also email questions to a panel of medical experts for answers.

  • chechelle

    seriously??? I’ve only ever heard of a colposcopy on this site. so yes when i first saw it i immediately thought of colonoscopy. just b/c many of us had not had to go through something like this doesnt mean we knew it existed. that was the whole reason for her post, i believe (and by the way i am FEMALE)

  • Yekaterina

    Thank you so much for posting this. I consider myself well informed, but I’ve never even heard of this! Or, for that matter, thought about what happens if my pap results come back abnormal. Now I know. It sounds completely terrifying. As if a regular pap smear wasn’t bad enough. I cant believe they do this colposcopy procedure without anesthesia. Is there an option to do it with anesthesia?
    I hope your results come back ok. Keep us updated.

  • jmcopeland

    Much like everyone else who has commented, I wanted to thank you so much for posting this. About a month ago my pap came back abnormal, and I had to get a colposcopy. Afterwards, the abnormal cells turned out to be more severe than they initially thought, and they were actually precancerous. I had to go back in two weeks ago to have a LEEP procedure, which was so nicely described above, so I won’t get into it much.
    I am so happy to have this connection to other women, to know that the things I’m dealing with aren’t strange, and that there are tons of women out there dealing with the same things. For me, it’s been hard to handle. I had discharge for a full 2 weeks after my LEEP procedure, and almost had to go to the hospital for unusual bleeding in post op. I got my results a few days ago, and they came back clear! Everything was removed, and I just have to go back for a new pap in 6 months. Phew!
    Reading this entry tonight has gotten me very emotional. I am so relieved to know that there is a place I can go for help understanding what is going on with my body.
    Thank you again.

  • mkv

    I would like to start out by saying that I have never posted on Feministing before, though I have been reading it for quite some time now. However, this subject hits quite close to home and I wanted to share a little of my experience.
    I was 18 years old and it was my ever pap smear. It was October and I was a freshman in college when I got the phone call. Abnormal pap smear. I tried to remain calm and when into the Health Center where I would find out more details about what “abnormal pap smear” meant. The nurse was wonderful and suggested I get a colposcopy which could not be done at our college but would refer me to an Ob/gyn in the area. I was scared out of my mind and cried a lot but I knew I had to get the procedure done for my own mental well-being.
    I had a horrific experience and seem to have blocked out much of this memory. I don’t remember the colopscopy much but I do remember the look of disappoint on the Ob/gyn’s face. “How many sexual partners have you had?”, she asked with judgment. One! I had lost my virginity only a year ago. The look of surprise on her face was hard to miss. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. The results came back and I had dysplasia, precancerous cells caused by HPV. I had no idea what any of this meant. Was I going to get cancer? Was I to blame? I should not have had sex. I felt dirty. All these thoughts just raced through my head and I shared it with no one. Guilt and self-reproach set in.
    Since then, I’ve only ever told one other person about this experience. Yet it has shaped my life extensively. I did some research in college and wrote a paper about how little women are informed about their reproductive organs and its repercussions. I think it is important to inform women about their bodies and all its intricacies. As such, I’m now in grad school concentrating in maternal and child health. I hope to go on to medical school and become an Ob/gyn and treat my patients with compassion rather than reproach.
    On a final note, once dysplasia was diagnosed, I had a treatment called cryotherapy, which involves freezing abnormal cells killing them so new, healthy cells grow. I have had normal pap smears since then but I still hold my breath for every yearly visit.

  • Brittany

    Thank you show much for sharing this.

  • alixana

    I don’t know if this matches anyone else’s experience here, but the colposcopy I mentioned n my comment above was because my abnormal results were the 2nd abnormal results I’d had in a certain number of years. The first time around, we just added in a pap smear at the 6 month mark and everything came back normal, but once I had that 2nd abnormal result, my doctor wanted to take a closer look.
    I’ve also seen some people cite stress as a reason for having abnormal results, and that might be linked to HPV – my doctor said that HPV is sort of like a cold sore, where the virus is in you at all times, but it’s only during times of stress or a lowered immune system that it actually manifests. Otherwise, you have no symptoms.

  • alixana

    My doctor didn’t say anything about doing it with anesthesia, and I don’t really think it would have been necessary. I’ve had questionable areas of skin removed from my arm before for a biopsy, and that definitely needed a local anesthetic, but the cervix is a lot more numb than your arm. Honestly, I’d rather go through a colposcopy again exactly as it was than have them waving needles around my cervix trying to make it extra-numb first. That’d just drag it out unnecessarily and probably add pain rather than take it away.

  • jellyleelips

    Calm down, please. I clearly said I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic or rude, and that I could be wrong. I wasn’t speaking for everyone.

  • SquarnAnne

    Thanks for this post! I’ve gone through two and am (finally!) back to normal as of my last pap! I always thought I knew a lot about women’s health, but the whole colposcopy thing really threw me for a loop when I got my first abnormal pap! I had no idea what the nurse who called me was talking about, and neither did my mom, a nurse herself! I really think healthcare professionals, sex educators, etc. need to explain to women what happens AFTER the abnormal result– I certainly would have been more prepared! The unfairness of it all stuck with me, too– I’d gotten a full course of Gardasil and had a low number of partners (as did my current partner). The thing is, diseases don’t care– they aren’t out to judge you morally, they just want to replicate. Once I got that into my head, I felt a lot better. I’ll admit that I was really tired of the whole routine by my second one, and I’m usually very understanding and compliant with doctors’ instructions. However, I only had CIN-I and was told by my gyno that if I had a record of returning for re-paps and colposcopies, I might be able to avoid LEEP for a few years longer than recommended (since I could be trusted to follow up). I can’t really explain why mine suddenly went away (which is the nature of HPV), but I was taking 4x the pregnant-woman amount of folic acid (which I’d discussed with my doctors). Maybe it helped or maybe the virus ran its course, but it sure didn’t hurt!

  • mightywombat

    So brilliant of you to think of posting your story here. I’ve had two colposcopies. The first time was rough; they hadn’t told me to take any painkiller beforehand. It didn’t hurt *that* much but I was really scared which made it harder. Afterward I felt faint and weak for much of the day.
    The second time was much better, since I knew what to expect. I think the fear played a big part in my reaction the first time.

  • ccv

    i had a colposcopy in ecuador, at the age of 20.
    i experienced some pain, but not as much as you described. still, for many reasons, the whole things was very stressful and i was uninformed about the whole thing and frustrated because it differed from what i read on the internet (which matches up more closely to yours and other peoples’ experiences).
    1. the whole thing came about because i had had unprotected sex and wanted std testing. the doctor did not do a pap smear but instead recommended the the colposcopy due to concerns about hpv based on visual observation.
    2. the doctor didn’t actually test for anything while doing the colposcopy. instead, he just “burned off the abnormal cells” (he only told me this after he had started doing it, and i asked what he was doing.) he told me to come back in a couple weeks to do the same thing again. he said 3 treatments would get rid of the abnormal cells.
    3. it’s the only time i’ve been to a male gyno. he walked me the 6 or so blocks from the women’s health clinic to his private offices asking me questions about my sexual history along the way (as we passed people i potentially could have know given that i was living in a relatively small town.)
    4. i got to watch the whole procedure on a tv screen — a super super close-up view of my vagina, which would have been interesting, i suppose, if i hadn’t been in pain and incredibly stressed out. also, despite this super fancy set up (way nicer office than i’ve ever been to in the states) the whole thing cost $20.
    i didn’t go back for any more treatments because i moved to another city and then returned to the US. when i got back to my doctor in the US she did a pap smear and the results were normal. most likely, she said, i did have an hpv infection and, like most young people, i fought it off on my own.
    i’m not sure what the point of this comment is except that it would have been nice to have been more informed. so i greatly appreciate your post detailing your experience!

  • blingaru

    I had one colposcopy performed several years ago. Like my previous two pap tests, it came back abnormal. I had to then get the cone biopsy performed which terrified me (that’s when they cut off a cone shaped piece of your cervix at the top). It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was completely sedated, so I don’t remember anything about the cone biopsy procedure. It did hurt for several days afterwards and I also bled for at least a week after. The results of the biopsy were not serious…they just showed that my cervix was enflamed and they never really knew why. After the biopsy, my cervix grew back and the cells have been normal ever since then. I found it very difficult though because knowing that things had been “tampered with” down there made me feel really uncomfortable for a long time. I was afraid to have sex because I thought it would hurt. It affected me psychologicaly for a long time. I think it was more than a year before I actually felt comfortable having sex again. Physically I was fine…but it’s funny how when you have to have certain procedures done that it can affect your mentally as well. This is not meant to scare anyone. I just wanted to describe my experiences in regards to the original topic.

  • Emmarie

    Thank you for posting this! This is such an important subject that many women are not informed on. I’ve had 4 colposcopies and 1 LEEP procedure. Each colp has been different. My first was relatively painless. I experienced severe cramping after the second two and the most recent one was pain free. For those who have gone through this or are going to in the future: don’t let anyone tell you you’re a baby for experiencing pain or that you need to be afraid of experiencing pain. There is no right way to experience this; everyone is different.
    A common misunderstanding I’m seeing here is that an abnormal pap does not automatically equal colposcopy. It depends on the level of dysplasia (abnormal cell growth) you have. And perhaps the standards for pap smears here in the U.S. sound like overkill, but I’m so thankful that here we’re expected to have them every year. I’m 25 and have been dealing with this for just 2 years. Prior to that I had normal pap smears from the age of 18. It happens that I contracted a very aggressive strain of HPV (not one of the strains covered by the vaccine) and I do not doubt that without my yearly (although lately it’s been every 3-6 months) pap smears, I’d be looking at cervical cancer.
    Colposcopies are emotionally draining and scary and a major nuisance. But props to you for being responsible about your health and not giving this the chance to affect your fertility and your lifespan.

  • Logrus

    For the record I take/took no offense and didn’t think your reply was rude or mean.

  • Lindsey

    I am shocked and disturbed that you as a feminist that supports “reproductive rights” and “comprehensive sex education” doesn’t know what an abnormal pap smear entails. Abnormal pap tests result from HPV, an STD that is spread form skin to skin contact. It is easily transmitted even if uses condoms, since condoms obviously don’t cover all areas of the genitals.
    HPV is incredibly common and most women that contract the virus will eventually clear it with their immune system. However, women that are exposed to multiple strains of HPV repeatedly are usually those women that engage in casual sex. I find is surprising that the contributors on this site so adamantly promote casual sex situations (sex with strangers, friends with benefits, etc.) while at the same time being completely naive to the HPV virus.
    This is why many women choose to wait to have sex only in very committed relationships or marriage, since having multiple sex partners over a lifetime puts one at risk for contracting multiple strains of HPV, which will cause the immune system to have a harder time fighting off the viruses.
    Educate yourself! I personally only had 1 sex partner in my life but I had an HPV test. The HPV test can be performed along with a pap test and tests for high-risk strains of HPV that may lead to cancer. I was negative and personally decided to not have sex again until marriage. I want to ensure that I NEVER contract a high-risk strain of HPV and put myself at risk for cancer.
    Also, the Guardasil vaccine vaccinates against 70% of the HPV strains that may lead to cancer. However, keep in mind that one can still develop cancer from the other 30% of HPV strains that the vaccine doesn’t cover.
    I think that young women should be educated on HPV and how it is easily transmitted while using “protection” (condoms). I personally never would want to have abnormal results and have to have piece of my cervix removed.

    • chelsa

      Let’s just clear up some serious problems with your post:

      1. You do not have to get HPV to have abnormal pap smears. I’ve never had HPV, but I’ve had to get a LEEP done.
      2. You don’t have to sleep with multiple partners to get an STI. You can sleep with one person and still end up with Herpes or HPV or HIV. I’ve had 30+ partners, and have never had an STI. Numbers are not the deciding factor of who gets STIs. Every sexual encounter, even if it’s with your future-husband only, is rolling the dice.
      3. We here are all pretty aware that there’s no such thing as 100% safe sex. It’s only safer sex. So thanks, but we already get it and are already doing our own risk assessments.
      4. This is a community post, so it’s not so unbelievable that a reader might not know about the ramifications of abnormal pap results. Not every reader is a full-time reproductive health advocate. I laud her efforts to spread the information around (no pun intended)
      5. Slut-shaming is not looked on too kindly around here. Neither is concern trolling. So feel free to stop it. You’re not winning anyone over with your “moral authority” tone.

  • llevinso

    Wow, just when you think you make a post where no one can be an asshole. Thanks for the shaming jackass!

  • jmcopeland

    “I personally never would want to have abnormal results and have to have piece of my cervix removed.”
    Do you think that any of us actually WANT to have a piece of our cervix removed? I’m not okay with you implying that women that have “casual sex” as you refer to it, are basically asking for cancer.
    I vote that this comment be removed.