Once your cervical screening sample has been taken it will be reviewed by specialists at a cytology* department. Therefore, the length of time taken to receive your screening results can vary. Make sure when you have your screening that you ask how and when they will let you know your test result.
NHS guidelines state that you should receive the results of your screening within two to six weeks, depending on where you live in the UK. In some parts of the UK HPV triage is performed on the same sample if low grade changes are seen with cytology and it is part of the cervical screening test. Read more about HPV testing.
If there are no abnormalities seen (the test is 'negative' and everything is fine) you will be sent a letter confirming the result by your local screening office. Sometimes the hospital may contact you with the result. Some GP's surgeries request the patient to ring for their result – do check if they would like you to do this. A negative results means you will be recalled for screening in three or five years time, dependent on where you live in the UK and your age.
If the specialist looking at your cervical screening test feels it would be advisable for you to be reviewed by a hospital doctor then they will inform your practice nurse or GP. In some areas there is an agreement between the hospital and the GP's surgeries that women are informed by letters directly from the hospital, and an appointment is made and enclosed in the same mailing.
More than nine out of ten screening results are negative  and around one in 20 show low grade changes. For most women with low grade changes, the cells will go back to normal without treatment.
One in a 100 test results show moderate changes (dyskaryosis) and one in 200 show high grade dyskaryosis. If your results indicate that you have dyskaryosis, you will be sent for colposcopy to investigate it further.
It is extremely rare for cancer to be diagnosed from a cervical screening test. Less than one in 1,000 women's test results show invasive cancer.
Download our 'Understanding positive screening results and abnormal cells' document.
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- Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2014. Cervical Screening Programme, England 2013–14. http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB15968/cerv-scre-prog-eng-2013-14-rep.pdf. Accessed: 04.09.2015.