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Author Topic: Questions about Pap Smears
NoName
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Member # 68739

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Hi. The time is coming up for me to have my yearly pap/pelvic exam. As I have gotten older, I have become more anxious about this exam. I am now 25, and have had the exam every year since I was 19, so I am definitely not new to them. It is not so much the exam that bothers me, it is waiting for the results. I am pretty much terrified of hearing that I have an abnormal pap smear. I have done lots of reading on HPV, and my doctor also told me that I am a very very low risk for cervical cancer. But still, I worry. I have been in a mutually monogamous relationship for the past 9 years, in which we regularly have oral and manual sex, but have only had intercourse a handful of times, the last time being when I was about 17. All my paps have been normal. My question is, will there ever be a time that I won't have to worry about this, assuming I stay in the same relationship and we remain faithful? Everywhere I read says that HPV can take years to show up if it has been dormant..but it doesn't say how many years. So if you have had consistently normal paps within the same relationship, after so many years can you safely assume that you do not have HPV? Also, i've read that you have a higher chance of having a high risk HPV when you are over 30. Why is that so? I would think most women are settled down and married at that age, and have birthed children by then. It seems the risks would be lower. Does that mean that dormant infections acquired in your teenage years normally surface in your 30s?

I know there are many types, and I am not worried about those except for the 4 that cause cancer. I am about to age out of the Gardasil age group, and I do not want the vaccine due to hearing too many horror stories about it. I know my sexual history very well, and it is very limited. I only had 1 other partner before my current and that was when I was 15 and we have very limited sexual contact. I don't know why this worries me so much. I have other friends who have have many different partners on a regular basis and they do not sweat pap smears like I do. I guess my biggest fear is they will find pre-cancerous cells and although I hope and pray they could stop the cells from turning into cancer, I know the procedures to do so are not pleasant (and I do not have health insurance to pay for them). I am also afraid that an abnormal result would end with them telling me to just come back in a year...and I would thus have to spend the whole year worrying I have cancer. I wish I could go back years ago when I didn't worry about this at all.

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NoName
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I meant we HAD very limited contact. It read like I was still having contact with that person. OOOPS! LOL.
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Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
Member # 90293

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Hi NoName,

Waiting for results is tough for a lot of people, so if it helps to know, you're not alone there.


Just to clarify, since you used the word "infections"--HPV is a virus, not an infection.

Because HPV is so prevalent, and is so often asymptomatic, I'm not really sure how to answer your questions. Your risks related to HPV are much lower because you've only been sexually active with a couple of people.

What I'm hearing in your concerns is a fear of not being able to control the outcome. That's certainly a scary thing.

if your Pap smear came back showing abnormal cells, your healthcare provider would not just tell you to come back in a year. What they do will depend on the results, but at the very least they will want to see you to do another PAP test a few months later.

What would help you best right now in terms of managing these fears?

--------------------
Robin

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NoName
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I'm not sure really. I know that most people, if they do have HPV, they usually clear it in about 2 years. I guess I am always afraid I will be one of those who don't clear it. HPV scares me because it isn't like other STI's where you have an incubation period and a simple test to say whether you have it or not. It seems so unpredictable to me, and you can't even tests males for it. I would feel much better knowing that after a certain amount of years, I could safely say that I don't and won't have HPV so long as I stay with the same person. But so far, I can't find anything that gives a definite time frame other than that cervical cancer takes about 10 years to grow. I hear a lot of people say that their doctor does just tell them to come back in a year to 6 months as a "wait and see" method to see if the HPV clear s up on its' own. That's an awful long time to wait and worry. Am I just overreacting about this? I mean, HPV is very very common, I realize that but I feel that I am blowing it up to be this huge scary thing that I should fear. If you get pap smears regularly, and it is caught in time, do you really ever have to get cervical cancer? I must say, I had a breast cancer scare a couple years ago (which turned out to be fibrocystic)and had to have a mammagramm, and ever since, I have been a little scared about female cancers. This is probably the reason I didn't worry about pap's very much until then. I'm just going to try to not worry and just hope it comes back normal like the rest.
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Patricia H
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Hi NoName,

HPV is a little different from other STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis because it is a virus (human papilloma virus) as opposed to an infection caused by bacteria. I would even go so far as to say that the comparison is akin to catching the cold versus the flu--one is caused by bacteria, and another is caused by a virus. People in the past have died from the flu and from minor colds, but you wouldn't worry about that, too, now would you?

And to be clear, the Pap test only checks for changes in cervical cells. The results can tell if you have an infection, abnormal (unhealthy) cervical cells, or cervical cancer, but it cannot definitively say you have HPV per say.

There are plenty of things in this world that are unpredictable and unknowable. As such, everything you do in your daily life carries such a risk: the risk of getting into an accident and dying in a car crash, of choking to death from a piece of food lodged in your throat, that you'll be struck by lightning while walking down the street, etc. That being said, the longer we live and hang around growing older, the greater the propensity for us to pick up bugs and all sorts of potentially pathogenic agents in our system; while our immune systems do most of the hard work in picking up and kicking out these intruders, we also live in an age of advancing medicine and vastly expansive healthcare options to do just that, as well. You've already stated in multiple ways how, just by your lifestyle choices alone, and your doctor notwithstanding, you are at a much lower risk for contracting HPV and cervical cancer compared to a more promiscuous peer. By that logic, you really don't have anything to worry about. Ultimately, though, the decision is yours whether or not you want to live in fear of things you have no control over.

--------------------
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. - Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

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