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What you need to know about abnormal pap smears in adolescent girls

Many parents wonder when a teenage girl should have her first pelvic exam and Pap smear. Such exams should begin when she starts having sex–or when you suspect that she may be sexually active.

The Pap smear, as you may know, involves a slight scraping of the cervix with the cells obtained placed on a slide and sent to a pathologist for diagnosis. In adult women, this is an important means of detecting cancer of the uterus at an early and curable stage. Why is the procedure important for teens? As many as 10 to 20 percent of sexually active teenage girls can have abnormal Pap smears. The most frequent cause of this is the infection with a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus causes genital warts which can occur on the cervix as well as (or instead of) on the external genitals. If not detected and treated, some forms of this HPV infection can cause abnormal cell growth on the cervix and may lead to cervical cancer.

If the Pap smear is abnormal, the physician will usually perform a procedure called colposcopy. Here, a biopsy of the Pap abnormal cervical area is taken and the area is usually treated with a laser beam.

This treatment method is quite effective. However, sexually active adolescent girls must continue to have yearly Pap smears for optimal health and reassurance.

Dr. Wibbelsman, M.D., is an award-winning author and former “Dear Doctor” columnist for Teen magazine. Chair of Adolescent Medicine for the Permanente Medical Group, Northern California, he is chief of the Teen-Age Clinic at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School. Dr. Wibbelsman is the news anchor for a Bay Area television series, “Medicine in the Nineties”.


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