Study objective: To present data on the spectrum of abnormal Papanicolaou (PAP) smears in adolescents and to determine factors that influence compliance with recommendations to return for repeat PAP smears or for colposcopic examination.
Design: Retrospective chart review with follow-up telephone calls to patients who did not follow recommendations for colposcopy.
Setting: Adolescents receiving health care in a hospital-based adolescent clinic.
Participants: Patients with abnormal PAP smears between July 1, 1994 and June 30, 1995.
Main outcome measures: Compliance with follow-up for abnormal PAP smears including referral to the colposcopy clinic, and the results of repeat PAP smears and colposcopy.
Results: Of 888 adolescents undergoing PAP smear evaluation 119 (13.4%) had an abnormal PAP smear during the study year (index PAP). The results of the index PAP were 97 (81.5%) atypia and 22 (18.5%) squamous intraepithelial lesion low grade (SIL LG). The index PAP was the first abnormal PAP smear for 92 of the patients (77%); 27 had one or more previous abnormal PAP smears (18 atypia, 7 SIL LG, 2 SIL high grade [HG]), and 13 had been referred for colposcopy in the past. For 76 of 92 patients with atypia on index PAP (84%), the index PAP was the first abnormal PAP smear. Of these 76 patients, 51 had a second PAP smear: 27 (53%) were normal, 13 (25%) atypia, and 11 (22%) SIL LG. Sixty patients were referred to the colposcopy clinic, but only 37 actually kept the colposcopy appointment despite outreach. The only significant factor for obtaining colposcopy was a visit to the Adolescent Clinic after notification of the abnormal PAP smear result and before the colposcopy appointment; 79% of those who had a visit obtained colposcopy compared with 45% of those who did not have such a visit (p = 0.007). There were no significant differences by race, insurance status, age, PAP smear result, previous referral for colposcopy, or number of reminders with compliance with recommendations for repeat PAP smears or colposcopy.
Conclusions: Although a sizable proportion of adolescents with abnormal PAP smears have significant pathology on repeat PAP smears, adolescents with abnormal PAP smears have a high failure rate in keeping appointments for follow-up PAP smears and colposcopy. Interventions that target all adolescents with abnormal PAP smears need to be designed and tested to aid follow-up.