Cervical screening results

When will I get the results of my cervical screening?

Usually within 2 to 6 weeks.

What do the results mean?

The test looks for HPV (human papilloma virus). The results will tell you if you have HPV or not. If you have HPV, the results will also tell you whether there are any changes in the cells that could lead to cancer.

What happens next?

It depends on what they find as to what happens next. You might not need to do anything or you might need further tests.

You usually get your cervical screening results in the post. It can take from 2 to 6 weeks. If you have been waiting longer than you expected, call your GP surgery to find out if they have any updates about when you might hear. If there is a delay try not to worry. It doesn't mean that there is anything wrong, most people will have a normal result. 

There are several different results you can get after the cervical screening test. The wording in your letter might be slightly different depending on which part of the UK you live in and whether they do HPV primary screening or not. England, Wales and Scotland are using HPV primary screening. Northern Ireland is going to use it in the future. 

What do my cervical screening results mean?

HPV primary screening results 

HPV primary screening tests the sample of cells for high risk types of the HPV virus. High risk HPV can cause cell changes in the cervix, which over time can develop into cancer. Not all cell changes will develop into cancer but it's important to monitor any changes and give treatment if necessary. 

If you have a high risk type of HPV, the sample is then checked under a microscope for cell changes. If your result is HPV negative, your sample will not be tested for cell changes.

Your test results could include one of the following:

  • No HPV found - means you don't have high risk HPV. So you will be invited back for cervical screening in 3 or 5 years time depending on your age and where you live. 
  • HPV found with no cell changes - means you have high-risk HPV, but you do not have changes to your cervical cells. So you will be invited for cervical screening sooner to check that the HPV has gone. This usually after a year.
  • HPV found with cell changes - means you have high risk HPV and cervical cell changes. These changes are also called dyskaryosis. You will be invited to go for a colposcopy and further tests.

Cervical screening cytology results

If you live in Northern Ireland they test for changes in the cervical cells first (cytology). If there are changes they then test the sample for high risk HPV. 

  • Normal - means that no abnormal cells were found on the sample.  
  • Abnormal - means abnormal cell changes were found. These changes are also called dyskaryosis. These can be further described as borderline or mild cell changes (low grade) or moderate or severe cell changes (high grade). 

If you have low grade changes, the laboratory will check for HPV. If no HPV is found in the sample, it is called HPV negative. In this situation, the cell changes are very likely to go back to normal or stay the same. So, it is safe for you to go back to the routine screening programme and have smear tests every 3 to 5 years depending on your age.

If you have low grade changes but HPV is found on the sample (HPV positive), you will get an invitation for a colposcopy. This test can show whether you need treatment for the abnormal cells. 

You also have a colposcopy if you have high grade cell changes.

In the future, Northern Ireland will switch to using the HPV primary screening test like the rest of the UK. The National Screening Committee has recommended HPV primary screening as evidence has shown it is a better test for detecting and preventing cervical cancer. 

Problems with the result

You might be told that you need a repeat test because yours couldn't be read properly. This is sometimes called having an inadequate sample. This could be because:

  • there were not enough cells in the sample
  • you have an infection and it wasn't possible to see the cells clearly enough
  • you were having a period and there was too much blood to see the cells clearly
  • the cervix was inflamed and it wasn't possible to see the cells clearly enough

In all these cases, the letter will ask you to go back and have another test. This is usually about 3 months later.

If you have changes in your cells

Having changes in your cells doesn’t mean that you have cancer. The changed cells often go back to normal by themselves. But in some, these changes could develop into cancer in the future if not treated. 

It is very rare for an abnormal result to show that a cancer has already developed, especially if you have been having regular screening.

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