Treatments and tests

Understanding your Cervical Screening Test results

Your healthcare provider will discuss the results of your Cervical Screening Test with you.

What do my test results mean?

Based on your Cervical Screening Test results your healthcare provider may recommend you:

  • return to screen in 5 years
  • repeat the test in 12 months
  • refer to a specialist
  • repeat the test in 6 weeks.

Return to screen in 5 years

Your screening results indicate you do not have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The National Cervical Screening Program will send you an invitation to have your next Cervical Screening Test in 5 years. The latest medical and scientific evidence shows that you can safely return to screen in 5 years.

Repeat the test in 12 months

Your screening results indicate you do not need further follow-up at this time but you should have a repeat test in 12 months. This is because you have an HPV infection that is likely to be cleared by your body’s immune system within the next 12 months. A repeat HPV test in 12 months checks that the infection has gone and if it has, you are safe to return to five-yearly screening.

If the repeat test shows the HPV infection has not gone, you may need further testing from a specialist. This does not mean you have developed cervical cancer. It takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop after an HPV infection and cervical cancer is a rare outcome of a HPV infection.

Refer to a specialist

Your screening results show that you have a type of HPV infection and/or you have changes to the cells of your cervix that requires further testing from a specialist.

This does not mean you have developed cervical cancer. It takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop after an HPV infection and cervical cancer is a rare outcome of a HPV infection. You will be referred to a specialist for a follow-up test, known as a colposcopy.

It is very important you follow the instructions of your healthcare provider if you received this test result.

Repeat the test in 6 weeks

You will be asked to repeat the test in 6 weeks if there was an unsatisfactory test result. This does not mean there is something wrong. An unsatisfactory result means your sample cannot be read properly and it is important to repeat the test in 6 weeks. There are many reasons why this happens, such as the number of cells collected was too small.

It is important that you attend all follow-up as recommended by your healthcare provider. If you have a cervical abnormality that is not monitored, and if needed treated, it may progress to cervical cancer.

What is a cervical abnormality?

A cervical abnormality means that the cells of the cervix appear different. This does not mean you have cervical cancer.

Cervical abnormalities are given different grades of severity.

Low-grade abnormality means that the cervical cells are ‘a little bit different’, or slightly abnormal, and indicate infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is usually cleared by the body’s immune system within 1 to 2 years. Your healthcare provider will advise you of any follow-up that is required.

High-grade abnormality means that the cervical cells have undergone greater changes. This is due to a HPV infection that has not been cleared by the body’s immune system. This does not mean you have cervical cancer. However, if a result of high-grade abnormality is not followed up, and if needed treated, it could lead to cervical cancer. The follow up for a high-grade abnormality is referral to a specialist for colposcopy. The specialist will examine your cervix and determine if there is a need to take a cervical biopsy.

Abnormalities can usually be treated easily and successfully if detected early. If left untreated there is a greater chance of developing cervical cancer.

How are abnormal cervical cells treated?

There are a variety of treatments available if an abnormality is found during further testing and your healthcare provider will discuss the best option(s) for you.

  • Wire loop – abnormal cells are ‘scooped’ from the cervix with a fine wire loop. This procedure takes about 15 minutes. A local anaesthetic is used and a hospital stay is usually not required.
  • Laser – abnormal cells are removed using heat from a laser beam. This procedure takes about 15 minutes and is done using local anaesthetic. Sometimes a general anaesthetic is used and a short hospital stay is necessary.
  • Diathermy – abnormal cells are destroyed using heat. This is carried out under a general anaesthetic and may require a day in hospital.
  • Cone biopsy – a minor operation to remove a small cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix. This requires a general anaesthetic and a day or overnight stay in hospital.
  • Hysterectomy – an operation to remove the uterus. This treatment is rarely required for cervical abnormalities. Your doctor will advise you if this surgery is recommended.

Feel free to ask your healthcare provider as many questions as you like so that you understand your results and treatment. You may find these examples useful:

  • What does my Cervical Screening Test result mean?
  • Do I need more tests?
  • What treatment do you advise and why?
  • Are there any other options?
  • Will I need to take time off work?
  • Will there be bleeding/vaginal discharge?
  • Will the treatment affect my sex life?
  • How often will I need to come back?
  • When is my next check-up due?
  • How else can I take care of myself?
  • Can you give me more information about HPV?
What happens after treatment?

Some women experience abdominal cramps after treatment. This can feel like a painful period. It is also normal to have a dark or watery vaginal discharge for up to 4 weeks. This may include the passing of small clots while your cervix heals.

You will be advised not to have sexual intercourse for about 1 month while your cervix is healing. Some women find that it takes longer before they feel like having sexual intercourse again.

Your healthcare provider may also advise you not to use tampons for a short while.

Following any abnormality, you will need to have regular check-ups, as recommended by your healthcare provider.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Acknowledgements
WA Cervical Cancer Prevention Program

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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