Understanding your cervical screening test results
This information below is to help you understand the abnormal result from your recent cervical screening test. Cervical screening is designed to pick up minor changes in the cervix (neck of the womb) before any problems develop.
An abnormal result is not unusual: about 1 in 20 women have test results that show some abnormality.
It is important to remember that it is extremely rare for an abnormality found at screening to be cancer.
Nearly all abnormal results show no more than small changes in cells. These can act as an early warning sign that, over time, cervical cancer may develop.
An abnormal result usually means that small changes have been found in the cells on the cervix (the neck of the womb). The medical name given to these changes is dyskaryosis. An area with changed cells is known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN.
In many cases these changes return to normal by themselves. But sometimes the changes become worse and could lead to cancer in the future. In such cases it is necessary to have a further examination which will show if treatment is needed. Treatment is simple and very effective.
Fortunately, it usually takes many years for cancer of the cervix to develop. So it is very rare, especially in women who have regular cervical screening, for an abnormal result to show that cancer has already developed.
Causes of an abnormal result
Changes in the cells of the cervix are often associated with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is transmitted by sexual intercourse. There are over 100 types of this virus, and certain types are linked with nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
HPV often shows no symptoms. It is therefore possible that you may have had the virus for many years without knowing about it, or a partner may have been infected many years ago and, again, not known about it.
For women with borderline or low grade dyskaryosis
If a woman’s screening result shows mild abnormalities (called borderline or low grade dyskaryosis) an HPV test will be carried out on her sample. Women with borderline or low grade dyskaryosis have only a 15-20% chance of having an abnormality significant enough to need treatment.
The HPV test is important because the presence or absence of HPV indicates which
women might need treatment. If HPV is found in your sample you will be invited to attend the Colposcopy Clinic for a more detailed examination to see whether any further treatment is required. If HPV is not found you will return to normal smear follow-up - every 3 to 5 years depending on your age.
For women with high grade changes
For some women their result will show high grade dyskaryosis. These areas of changed cells are associated with the grades CIN 2 and CIN 3.
Even with CIN 2 or CIN 3 grade changes, it is unlikely that you have cancer. However, these changes are less likely to return to normal by themselves and usually need treatment. You will be referred to the Colposcopy Clinic for a more detailed examination. You should receive an appointment for the Colposcopy Clinic
within 2 weeks of receiving your result letter.
This is an examination at a Colposcopy Clinic that allows the doctor to decide if you need treatment.
An instrument called a speculum will be gently inserted into your vagina to hold it
open and allow the colposcopist to access your cervix. They will then use a colposcope to examine your cervix. A colposcope is a type of microscope or magnifying glass which lets the doctor look more closely at the changes on
your cervix. The colposcope itself does not touch you or go inside you.
If the result of your cervical screening test indicates that you should be referred to the Colposcopy Clinic, you should receive an appointment for the Colposcopy Clinic within 2 weeks of receiving your result letter.
If you have not received an appointment after 2 weeks, please contact:
+44 1624 650334
If you need treatment following colposcopy you will usually be treated as an outpatient and there will be no need for you to stay in hospital. The area of changed cells will be removed from the cervix. This procedure will be carried out under local anaesthetic.
If colposcopy reveals CIN and you are treated for it, you will have a screening test once again about 6 months after your treatment. If the result is normal, borderline or low grade dyskaryosis the sample will be tested for HPV.
If HPV is not found you need not be screened for another 3 years. If HPV is found, or if the screening result shows high grade dyskaryosis, you will be invited for colposcopy again. You will then be treated or, if treatment is not needed, monitored in line with the national guidelines covering women who have had colposcopy.
The HPV test
The test is done using the sample of cells taken during the screening test, so there is no need to be screened again.
Sex does not make any abnormality worse, and you cannot pass on abnormal cells to your partner. Enjoy sex as usual, but you should use an effective contraceptive.
It is important not to get pregnant until your abnormality is dealt with, as the hormones produced during pregnancy make treatment more difficult.
Colposcopy will have no effect on your future fertility. The colposcopist will discuss with you the possible effect that treatment may have if you become pregnant in the future. Pregnant women needing treatment may be advised to wait until after the birth of their baby.
- About 1 in 20 women have an abnormal cervical screening result, so it is not particularly unusual.
- Nearly all abnormal tests show no more than small changes in the cells on the cervix. These changes would probably never develop into cancer, but it is sensible to monitor them.
- Treatment, if needed, is simple and virtually 100 per cent effective. You will usually be treated as an outpatient. The colposcopist will discuss any effects treatment may have on pregnancy.
- You can have sex again within a few weeks of treatment.
- Having an abnormal screening result does not affect your ability to have children.
If you have any questions regarding your condition, or if you feel worried at all, do not hesitate to phone or make an appointment with your GP, who will be happy to talk to you.
All clinics are by appointment only.
If you have any queries about the Cervical Screening Programme please contact us at:
Isle of Man
+44 1624 642640