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Cervical screening results

You should get your cervical screening (smear test) results by post within 2 weeks after your test. Most people will not have cervical cell changes. 

We also have information on:

Waiting for your cervical screening results may make you feel anxious. We are here if you need some support while waiting for your results or when you get them. 

Get support >

What do my cervical screening results mean?

England, Scotland and Wales use a test called HPV primary screening during cervical screening. Northern Ireland currently uses a test called cytology, but will use HPV primary screening in future.

The results you get will depend on how your sample is tested.

Read about HPV primary screening and cytology >

Depending on your result and where you live, you may be asked to:

  • come back for cervical screening in 1 year
  • come back for cervical screening in 3 years
  • come back for cervical screening in 5 years
  • have some more tests at colposcopy.

No HPV found

What it means

You don’t have high-risk HPV.

Next steps

If you live in England or Wales, you will be invited for cervical screening in:

  • 3 years if you are age 25 to 49
  • 5 years if you are age 50 to 64.

If you live in Scotland, you will be invited for cervical screening in 5 years, whatever your age.

HPV found – no cell changes found

What it means

You have high-risk HPV, but you do not have changes to your cervical cells.

Next steps

You will be invited for cervical screening in 1 year, to check the HPV is gone.

Read about HPV >

HPV found – cell changes found

What it means

You have high-risk HPV and cervical cell changes.

Next steps

You will be invited to colposcopy for further tests.

Read about colposcopy >

Inadequate

What it means

You sometimes get this result if the sample could not be tested properly, does not have enough cells or if the cells cannot be seen properly under a microscope. 

Next steps

Repeat cervical screening after 3 months.

Cytology results (if you live in Northern Ireland)

Cytology is currently used in Northern Ireland. 

Normal

What it means

You do not have cervical cell changes.

Next steps

You will be invited for cervical screening in 3 or 5 years.

Abnormal

What it means

You have cervical cell changes. Your results letter will tell you if the changes are borderline, low grade or high grade. 

Next steps

You will only be invited for colposcopy if you have high grade cell changes or low grade cell changes and HPV. 

Read about colposcopy >

Inadequate

What it means

The sample of cells could not be looked at for changes. This sometimes happens if the sample does not have enough cells or if the cells cannot be seen properly.

Next steps

Repeat cervical screening after 3 months.

When will I get my cervical screening results?

You should get your cervical screening results within 2 weeks after your test, but it can take longer. At your appointment, you can ask your nurse how long it will take to get your results and how you will get them.

Read our blog about delays to cervical screening results >

Getting your results early or later does not affect what the result is, but we know it can be worrying. If you are concerned, speak with your GP or call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000.

Check our Helpline opening hours >

Coronavirus and cervical screening results

If you have recently had cervical screening, your results may arrive later than expected because of the coronavirus. You can call or email your GP surgery to check when you can expect your results.

If you already have your results but aren't sure about the next steps, it is best to speak with your GP or the nurse who did the test.

We know you may be worried, which is why we have created a hub of information and support. If you need to talk, remember that our services are here to support you too.

How will I get my cervical screening results?

You should always get your cervical screening results letter in the post. If you don’t get a letter within the timeframe your GP surgery gave you, you may want to ring them.

If your sample needed further investigation or you need more tests, the hospital may contact you with your results.

Cervical screening results FAQs

HPV primary screening and cytology are reliable ways of testing the sample of cells taken during cervical screening:

  • Using HPV primary testing, we correctly identify about 9 in 10 cell changes. The UK is switching to using this test because it is more accurate than cytology .
  • Using cytology, we correctly identify about 7 or 8 in 10 cell changes. 

No screening test is perfect, so with both tests there is a chance of getting an inaccurate result. 

Read more about HPV primary testing and cytology >

No, cell changes are not cervical cancer. We know that about 1 in 20 people get a cervical screening result of cell changes. Cell changes happen when our cells start behaving in a way they should not, but many go back to normal without treatment. Sometimes treatment is needed to make sure cell changes don’t develop into cervical cancer. 

It is very rare for cervical cancer to be diagnosed from cervical screening. Only about 1 in 2,000 (less than 1%) people with an abnormal cervical screening result will have cervical cancer.

Read more about cell changes >

Dyskaryosis is another word for cell changes. Your results letter may also say if the cell changes are borderline, low grade or high grade, and it will tell you the next steps.

Read more about cell changes >

No. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is a charity independent of the national cervical screening programme, GP surgeries and other clinics and cannot access your cervical screening results. It is best to contact your local GP or the clinic where you had your test to find out about your results.

It is your choice whether to go for cervical screening. The NHS invites you for cervical screening from age 25 to 64 because research has shown that screening to this age is the best way to make sure your risk of developing cervical cancer as you get older is low.  

If you have questions about cervical screening or need support with the test, we have information about cervical screening that may help.

Read our tips about making cervical screening better for you >

You may also want to call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000check the Helpline opening hours >

No. It is important to remember that cervical screening is a screening test only. It gives a snapshot of cervical cells to identify whether there may be changes caused by high-risk HPV early.

If you have an abnormal result, you may be invited to colposcopy, so an expert can take a closer look at your cervix and diagnose any cell changes. If these changes are not monitored or treated, they may develop into cervical cancer at some point in the future. This is why cervical screening is the best way to prevent cervical cancer, along with having the HPV vaccine.

Read more about colposcopy >

Lots of people you feel anxious after getting an abnormal result, so you are not alone if you feel this way. But it is important that you understand what any cell changes are, so you can talk with your doctor about the results and get the right care and support.

Get support >

More information and support about your results

The best person to speak to about your cervical screening results is your GP, as they know your full medical history.

If you have general questions about your cervical screening results or are confused about the next steps, we can help:

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

  • Cervical screening: primary HPV screening implementation. Gov.uk. February 2019. Accessed December 2019.
  • For women – Frequently asked questions. The British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology. Accessed December 2019. 
  • Polman N. J. et al. HPV-based cervical screening: Rationale, expectations and future perspectives of the new Dutch screening programme. Preventative Medicine. February 2019.
  • Koliopoulos G. et al. Cytology versus HPV testing for cervical cancer screening in the general population. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 8. August 2017.
  • Saseni P. et al. Effectiveness of cervical screening with age: population based case-control study of prospectively recorded data. British Medical Journal. July 2009. 

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

HPV >

Understand what HPV is and how it is linked to cell changes and cervical cancer.

Colposcopy >

Understand what happens at colposcopy and the different results you can get.

We're here for you

Talk to someone about how you’re feeling, ask an expert or connect with others.

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Date last updated: 
04 May 2020
Date due for review: 
17 Apr 2021

Have a question? Need to talk?

Call our free helpline now on 0808 802 8000.

Have a chat with our trained helpliners to get your questions answered. Get information on HPV, cervical screening, the HPV vaccine, cell changes (abnormal cells) or cervical cancer. No question is too big or too small.