Abnormal smear test results
By Dr Katharina Schramm MD, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
An abnormal result is not unusual: about one 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 the abnormal results show no more than small changes in the cells. These act as an early warning sign that, over time, cervical cancer may develop.
What does my result mean?
An abnormal result usually means that small changes have been found in the cells on the cervix (the neck of the womb). 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 virtually 100 percent 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.
What causes 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.
Most women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but most infections disappear without the need for treatment. Even women with ‘high risk’ HPVs rarely go on to develop 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.
Borderline changes or mild (Low-grade) dyskaryosis
For many women their abnormal result will show borderline changes or mild (low-grade) dyskaryosis. The areas of changed cells are known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, or CIN. CIN is graded on a scale of 1 to 3. Mild (low-grade) dyskaryosis is associated with the grade CIN1. These changes are not cancer, and in most cases do not lead to cancer in the future.
At +richmond practice you can have HPV testing to determine whether a colposcopy would be a useful further investigation.
What is a colposcopy?
This is a simple examination with an instrument called colposcope. This is a type of microscope or magnifying glass which lets the doctor look more closely at the changes on your cervix. It does not touch you or go inside you. The examination is very similar to the screening test.
What about treatment?
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. Treatment is nearly always 100 percent successful. The area of changed cells will be removed from the cervix.
What follow-up will I need?
If you need treatment, you will be asked to have a follow-up screening test six months afterwards to check that all the abnormal cells have gone.
What about sex?
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.
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 us at +richmond practice.
About one in 20 women have an abnormal cervical screening result, so it is not particularly unusual.
Nearly all the abnormal tests show no more than small changes in 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. You can have sex again within a few weeks of treatment. Having an abnormal screening result does not affect your ability to have children
At +richmond practice we offer well-women checks with ultrasound in an upmarket setting. Women attend for their smear tests and checks with female consultant gynaecologists in a well-equipped facility. Our friendly team will ensure that you are as comfortable as possible.
For a same-day appointment contact email@example.com or call
020 8940 5009