Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 31 years old and have been healthy all my life -- or so I thought.

I have annual physical examinations and PAP smears. I trusted my doctor to let me know about any abnormal test results and thought that "No news is good news." Well, I don't think that way anymore.

Last April, I had a physical, and because I heard nothing from my doctor, I assumed everything was OK. However, in July, I had a minor problem and called for an appointment. My regular doctor couldn't take me so I was seen by another doctor in the same group.

The new doctor asked why I hadn't returned for my "pinch biopsy." I was startled -- remember: No news is good news. My doctor had failed to notify me that my PAP smear showed level-three dysplastic cells on my cervix. It seems that for three years, my PAP smears had shown precancerous cells, but the test results had been simply filed in my chart and nothing was said to me about them!

I was frightened and angry that this had slipped by my doctor. What is the annual exam for, if not to catch such things at an early stage?

Biopsies were done the next day and surgery was scheduled for two weeks later. Part of my cervix was removed to eliminate the precancerous cells, but the new doctor warned me that the cells may appear again in the future. He said I would PROBABLY be able to get pregnant and carry a baby to term.

Abby, I wonder what would have happened to me had I not had that minor problem that caused me to see another doctor? Would my regular doctor have caught the oversight at some point or would the reports have remained unnoticed in my file? His negligence could have cost me my life!

I now have a new doctor.

Abby, please warn your readers not to buy into the adage that no news is good news and to call their doctors for test results. Ignorance of the results could cost a life while knowledge of them could literally save one. -- LUCKY IN CONNECTICUT

DEAR LUCKY: You are indeed fortunate that your condition was discovered before it became life-threatening.

In these days of managed medical care, doctors are seeing far more patients than they used to -- and many of them expect their patients to be more sophisticated and responsible about their health than a generation ago. And part of that means shouldering the responsibility to CALL THE DOCTOR for test results instead of waiting to be notified. Your letter illustrates how important it is to take the initiative.

CONFIDENTIAL TO MY READERS: Easter will soon be here, and although I've cautioned you before, I must caution you again: If you plan to surprise a child with a live rabbit, baby duck or chick, please consider that living creatures need proper care. Unless you are absolutely certain that the little creature will receive the care it needs to survive, please give a stuffed bird or animal instead. Regardless of how cute baby animals are, they should not be given to children on impulse.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600