Does having an abnormal Pap mean I'll get cervical cancer?
"Absolutely not," says Dr. Monk. "There's a huge spectrum here -- from merely contracting HPV to actually getting cervical cancer, which is very, very rare, comparatively speaking." Here's some perspective:
- Of all the millions of women who become infected with HPV, only about 10 percent will get a chronic infection their immune systems can't fight off.
- Only a tiny fraction of those -- maybe one in 100 -- will get precancerous lesions (abnormal cells that could turn into cancer if left untreated).
- Of women with precancerous lesions, there are three basic levels of abnormalities. Most doctors won't even treat the first, mildest level because the abnormal cells usually go away on their own.
- Treating the second two levels promptly usually means the abnormalities won't have the chance to progress into full-blown cancer. Cervical cancer is pretty rare, and usually only affects women who don't get Pap smears or see their doctor regularly.