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Coronavirus: Stay at home

Health information and advice to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Your cervical screening results

Your cervical screening test results (previously smear test results) are usually sent to you in a letter.

When you should get your results

You should get your results letter within 4 weeks of your test.

If you have waited longer than you expected, call your GP or clinic to see if they have any updates.

Try not to worry if your results are taking a long time to get to you. It does not mean anything is wrong.

Most people's results are normal (no HPV found).

What your results letter means

Your results letter will explain what was tested for and what your results mean.

Your letter may say:

  • HPV not found
  • HPV found and no abnormal cells changes found
  • HPV found and abnormal cell changes found
  • inadequate sample

HPV not found

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.

But screening is not perfect. It has limitations. You still need to attend your next screening test when it's due. You could still get a HPV infection in the future. You may still be at risk of developing cervical cancer in the future.

HPV found and no abnormal cell changes found

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 time to clear the HPV infection. Most people's immune system clears HPV from their body within 18 months, without any treatment. But in some people the infection stays.

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 test called a colposcopy. A colposcopy is a more detailed look at your cervix. It's similar to having cervical screening.

Having HPV does not mean you have cervical cancer. In most cases, it takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop. Cervical cancer is a rare outcome of a HPV infection.

HPV and abnormal cell changes found

Your results show you have a HPV infection and abnormal cells in your cervix.

You need a follow-up test called a colposcopy

Your GP or nurse will have more detail about your result. It’s very important you follow their advice.

This result means you need further testing.

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.

Type of HPV infection

Cervical screening looks to see if you have any of 14 high-risk types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

It does not tell us exactly which HPV type, or how many HPV types, were found.

HPV infection and your partner

HPV can stay dormant (sleeping) 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.

Find out more about HPV

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 different types of abnormal changes to cells in the cervix:

  • Low-grade - this means mild 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

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 an examination called a colposcopy.

High-grade changes

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 an examination 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. But it is carried out in an out-patient department in a hospital.

A colposcopy usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. If you are referred through CervicalCheck, it is free. Your GP or nurse will arrange the colposcopy for you.

Find out more about having a colposcopy.

Inadequate sample

This means that the lab could not process your screening test sample.

This may be because:

  • the sample was not suitable for HPV testing
  • not enough cells were collected
  • the cells could not be seen clearly enough
  • inflammation was present
  • the sample has expired
  • the sample may have been mislabeled
  • the vial (tube the sample is put in) has expired
  • the vial has been damaged

You’ll need to have a repeat test in around 3 months. 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.

An inadequate result does not mean there is something wrong. 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.

page last reviewed: 30/12/2019
next review due: 30/12/2022