Abnormal cervical screening result

Within two weeks of having your cervical screening you should get a letter with your results. If you have an abnormal result, this does not mean you have cancer. It means that some of your cells are abnormal and you’ll need some more tests.

Cell changes can be caused by inflammation, infection or some medicines. Cell changes may be called dyskaryosis and will usually be:

  • Borderline or mild cell changes – these changes usually go back to normal without treatment. You may have further tests.
  • Moderate or severe cell changes – your GP or nurse will refer you for a colposcopy.

Sometimes a screening test may find cervical glandular intra-epithelial neoplasia (CGIN). This is when there are changes to the glandular cells lining the cervical canal. This is uncommon but can lead to adenocarcinoma cancer if not treated. Very occasionally the test may find early cervical cancer.

If you are pregnant and you have had abnormal test results in the past you may need screening tests or a colposcopy during your pregnancy. These procedures do not harm the baby.

Abnormal test results

You will usually get a letter with your screening results within two weeks of having the test. The GP practice where you had the test will also get a copy. If you don’t hear anything within six weeks, you can ask the surgery or clinic to check your results.

Your test report may show an abnormal result. This means the laboratory has found some cell changes that may need further investigation.

If the results show there may be abnormal cells in the cervix, your GP practice should either:

  • arrange another test, or
  • refer you to a specialist – for example, a gynaecologist or a colposcopist. The colposcopist may be a doctor or nurse.

Often the changes may be due to inflammation or infection. Sometimes certain medicines, such as hormonal therapies for gynaecological conditions or breast cancer, can cause changes in the cervix. So it’s important to tell the person doing the screening about any medicines you’re taking.

Having a colposcopy after an abnormal screening test

Hear from Joyce, Nurse Colposcopist, and Kacy about what a colposcopy is and what to expect on the day.

Having a colposcopy after an abnormal screening test

Hear from Joyce, Nurse Colposcopist, and Kacy about what a colposcopy is and what to expect on the day.


Cell changes

Any cell changes may be called dyskaryosis in your screening report. You’ll usually hear them called:

  • borderline or mild cell changes (mild or low-grade dyskaryosis)
  • moderate cell changes (moderate or high-grade dyskaryosis)
  • severe cell changes (severe or high-grade dyskaryosis).

Cell changes in the cervix are often caused by infection with HPV. Only high-risk types can cause changes in the cervical cells that may go on to develop into cancer.

Testing of cervical screening samples for high-risk types of HPV is now being introduced in some areas of the country. If you live in an area where it is being done, your cervical screening sample may be tested to see if it contains a high-risk type of HPV.


Borderline or mild cell changes (low-grade dyskaryosis)

Most abnormal results from screening tests show only very minor changes. The majority of these changes go back to normal on their own. If your screening test shows that you have borderline or mild cell changes, what happens next depends on whether HPV testing is available where you live.

If HPV testing isn’t available where you live

Your GP may refer you for a colposcopy, which is a more detailed examination of the cervix. Or they may arrange for a second screening test in six months’ time. This may allow the cell changes to go back to normal on their own. If your second screening test shows that the cells have gone back to normal, you’ll be asked to have two further screening tests at six-monthly intervals. If the cells remain normal, you’ll be invited again for screening in three or five years’ time (depending on your age).

If your second screening test still shows abnormal cells, your GP or practice nurse will arrange for you to have a colposcopy.

If HPV testing is available where you live

Your screening sample will be tested for HPV. If high-risk HPV isn’t found, you won’t need any further tests. This is because the cell changes are likely to go back to normal on their own. You’ll be invited for screening again in three or five years’ time (depending on your age).

If your sample contains a high-risk type of HPV, you’ll be referred for a colposcopy.

If you smoke, mild cell changes are less likely to go back to normal. If you’d like to give up smoking, your GP will be able to give you advice. We have more information on giving up smoking.


Moderate or severe cell changes (high-grade dyskaryosis)

A small number of women will have moderate or severe cell changes. If you have these, your GP or practice nurse will suggest that you have a colposcopy within a few weeks.


Cervical glandular intra-epithelial neoplasia (CGIN)

Sometimes a screening test may find changes in the glandular cells that line the cervical canal. This is called cervical glandular intra-epithelial neoplasia (CGIN). If left untreated, these changes may develop into a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma. It’s much less common for changes to occur in these cells.


Cervical cancer

A cervical screening test can very occasionally find early cervical cancer. Most women with an abnormal test result have early cell changes and not cancer.

If the result of your cervical screening test shows there are cell changes in the cervix, you should have the chance to discuss this with your GP or practice nurse. You can also call our cancer support specialists for free on 0808 808 00 00.


Pregnancy and abnormal cervical screening results

If you become pregnant and are not up to date with your screening tests, or you have previously had an abnormal test result, your GP or midwife may ask you to have a screening test at your first antenatal appointment. It is safe to have a smear test during pregnancy but it may cause a small amount of bleeding afterwards. This is normal and does not affect your baby.

If the test result is abnormal, you will be asked to have a colposcopy. A colposcopy does not harm the developing baby. If you need to have treatment, it is usually safe to wait until after the baby is born.

Back to Cervical screening and CIN

The cervix

The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus). It’s often called the neck of the womb.

Diagnosing and grading CIN

A colposcopy is used to confirm whether you have cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN) and how severe it might be.

Treating CIN

If you have been diagnosed with CIN, you may have treatment to remove the abnormal cells. There are different types of treatment.

After treatment for CIN

Most women feel fine after treatment for CIN but some may feel unwell for a few hours. You will be referred for regular screening tests.