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Delays to your cervical screening results?

Posted on: Monday, 24th April 2023 by Paula de Souza, Helpline Advisor

Recently we have spoken to lots of callers to our Helpline who are feeling concerned about how long they are waiting for their cervical screening results or follow up appointments. This blog sets out why some of the delays are happening and what to do if you think you're affected. If you are in this situation, you might be feeling anxious or frustrated and we're here for you. Find out about our support services at the end of this page.

Why are there delays? 

Across most of the UK, cervical screening and colposcopy services are performing as normal, and you can book appointments, get your results and attend any follow up appointments without a delay. However in some parts there are different pressures or issues within the NHS leading to delays. There are lots of reasons for delays including staffing pressures, the recent industrial action, backlogs and the accumulated effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is difficult to give precise, up to date information for every area, however the NHS is working to address the issues that exist.

Delays with cervical screening results  

After attending cervical screening, you will usually be sent your results through the post within 4 weeks. Most cervical screening results will be clear. 

Find out more about cervical screening results > 

Recently, we have heard from some people who have been waiting longer, sometimes up to 10 weeks to receive their results. 

This includes in:

  • Northern Ireland, however temporary arrangements have already been put in place to manage the backlog. Find out more >
  • Parts of England, however NHS England have assured us that they are working closely with their laboratory providers to support them to reduce the length of time it is taking for screening results to be sent out
  • Scotland where there are delays in issuing cervical screening results from both laboratories. If you have been waiting more than 8 weeks for your results, then NHS Scotland advise you to contact your GP practice and ask them to contact the lab to check on your sample. Go to NHS Inform to find out the most up to date information >   

How long will I have to wait for a colposcopy appointment? 

While you may face short delays in some parts of the UK, we are aware of two specific areas in Scotland where there are significant delays to colposcopy appointments for low grade referrals: 

  • Ayrshire and Arran – delays of up to 17 weeks 
  • Greater Glasgow and Clyde - delays of up to 52 weeks 

Will these delays mean I am more at risk of cervical cancer? 

We know a delay might feel worrying however it may be helpful to remember that cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer, taking between 5 and 20 years to develop, and many low grade cell changes will clear without the need for treatment. A statement from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said that urgent cases continue to be prioritised, with urgent assessments “completed within 4-5 weeks”. So while a delay of a few weeks or months can be difficult, it is unlikely for this to cause any changes in your health.

What can I do? 

Ask your GP or clinic how long you should expect to wait for your results. They should be able to tell you how long the current wait is in your area. This might help put your mind at rest. 

If you have waited longer than you were told or you are feeling concerned, then ask your surgery how much longer you might have to wait. Your GP will also be told your results when they are available, so it is worth checking to see if they have received them.  

I have symptoms, what should I do? 

If you are concerned about any symptoms then speak to your GP. This can help to give you peace of mind and ensure there are no delays in getting anything checked out. Symptoms that could be related to cervical cancer include, bleeding in between your periods or after the menopause, pain or bleeding after sex, a change in discharge, and pain in your lower back or in your pelvic area (between your hips). 

Read more about the symptoms of cervical cancer > 

If you have symptoms, you should not be offered cervical screening as this is a test to prevent cancer. Instead you should be offered a pelvic exam and follow up tests. Remember, these symptoms are common and can be caused by many different things that are not cancer, but it is always best to have them checked out. 

Support for you 

We know waiting for results and appointments can be a difficult time and we are here to support you. 

Our Helpline and Forum are great for sharing your experiences and talking to others. Knowing you’re not the only person who is affected and is feeling anxious can help to put your mind at ease.

See our blog on Coping with anxiety for more practical tips to help you manage how you are feeling >

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