Your cervical screening test results (previously smear test results) are usually sent to you in a letter.
Getting your cervical screening results
You'll usually get your results within 4 weeks of your screening test.
If you have waited longer, call your GP or clinic to see if they have any updates.
Your GP gets your result electronically. This means it arrives before your letter does. They may contact you with the result before you get your letter.
Try not to worry if your results are taking longer than 4 weeks. It does not mean anything is wrong.
Most people's results are normal (no HPV found).
What your results letter means
Your cervical screening results letter explains what was tested for and what your results mean.
There are 14 high-risk types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Cervical screening looks to see if you have any of these. It does not tell us which HPV type, or how many types, were found.
Your letter may say:
- HPV not found
- HPV found and no abnormal cell changes found
- HPV found and abnormal cell changes found
- inadequate or unsatisfactory sample
HPV not found
This means you do not have a HPV infection at this time. You will have your next screening test in 3 or 5 years depending on your age. We will write to you when your next screening test is due.
We do not need to check your cells when HPV is not found. This is because your risk of developing cell changes is extremely low.
You still need to attend your next screening test when it's due. You may still be at risk of developing cervical cancer in the future. You could get a HPV infection in the future or have a HPV infection that is dormant (inactive).
HPV found and no abnormal cell changes found
This means your results show you have a HPV infection. But it does not seem to be causing changes to the cells in your cervix.
You should have a repeat test in 12 months. This will give your body some time to clear the HPV infection. Most people's immune system clears HPV from their body within 18 months. But in some people the infection persists (it does not go away and it is active).
Your repeat test in 12 months will check if the infection has gone. If it has, you are safe to return to screening every 3 or 5 years, depending on your age.
If the repeat test shows you still have HPV, you will have a follow-up procedure called a colposcopy.
Having HPV does not mean you have cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a rare outcome of a HPV infection.
HPV that doesn't go away (persistent HPV) can cause changes to the cells of the cervix over time.
In most cases, it takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop.
HPV found and abnormal cell changes found
Your results show you have a HPV infection and abnormal cells in your cervix.
You need a follow-up procedure called a colposcopy.
Your GP or nurse will have more information about your result. It’s important you follow their advice.
It is unlikely you have cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a rare outcome of a HPV infection. In most case, it takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop.
What HPV found means
HPV can stay dormant (inactive) in your body for many years before it becomes active. It may never cause any cell changes.
You can have HPV for years and not know it. This makes it difficult to tell when you got the infection.
You could test negative for HPV and then positive a few years later. This can happen even if you have not been sexually active in between.
If it is found on a cervical screening test, we cannot say how long it has been there.
Having a positive HPV result does not mean your partner has had sex with someone else.
There is no need for your sexual partner to have a test done, or to have any specific treatment for HPV, if you have HPV.
Testing for abnormal cells
Your cervical screening sample will be checked for HPV first. If HPV is found, it will be checked for abnormal cells.
Abnormal cells are not cancer. But they can lead to cancer.
There are 2 types of abnormal changes to cells in the cervix:
- low-grade - this means minor cell changes
- high-grade - this means moderate to severe cell changes
In most cases, people will be told that the cells of their cervix are healthy. They do not have abnormal cells.
Low-grade changes mean that the test has found some minor abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.
Low-grade changes are common and most clear up on their own.
Having low-grade changes does not mean that you have cancer.
You will need to have a procedure called a colposcopy.
High-grade changes mean that the test has found moderate to severe abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. These changes are less likely to clear up on their own.
This does not mean you have cancer.
You will need to have a procedure called a colposcopy.
If you need a colposcopy
A colposcopy is a more detailed look at your cervix. It is similar to having cervical screening.
Your GP or nurse will arrange a colposcopy for you. If you are referred through CervicalCheck, it is free.
You will have your colposcopy in a hospital outpatient department. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes and you can go home the same day.
Inadequate or unsatisfactory sample
If you get an inadequate or unsatisfactory result, it does not mean there is something wrong.
This type of result means that the lab could not process your screening test sample.
This may be because:
- the sample was not suitable for HPV testing, has expired or may have been mislabelled
- not enough cells were collected or they could not be seen clearly enough
- inflammation was present
- the vial (tube the sample is put in) has expired or has been damaged
You’ll need to have a repeat test. You need to wait 3 months so that the cells in your cervix have time to grow back and we can get the best samples.
Talk to your GP or nurse if you have any questions.
If you receive 3 inadequate results in a row, you will be referred for a colposcopy.