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Smear test recall: what do the results mean?

Just relax if it's a recall.

It’s the day that you’ve been waiting for… statistically, you’re likely to receive the all-clear, with 93.5% of women receiving a clean bill of health. But there’s still no need to be alarmed if you get a recall. I spoke with an NHS spokesperson to get the low-down.

It’s a recall:
You might get a recall as the sample was inadequate. Thanks to better testing nowadays, that’s quite a small percentage, around 2.8% were recalled in 2009-10. All that means is that the your sample did not show up clearly. You will need to call and re-book and repeat your smear test and the result letter will indicate when the next test should be taken.

It says it’s abnormal:
Don’t panic! If you get an abnormal result all that means is that the laboratory has identified that some of your cells may need investigation. You may be asked to go in to repeat your smear test, perhaps in three or six months, because the abnormal cells may return to normal. They’re basically keeping an eye on you to make sure any abnormalities don’t turn into anything to worry about. You may even receive three ‘borderline’ results before you’re referred to the Colposcopy department, which is where you receive a closer examination, (the procedure is called Colposcopy). So don’t worry, just remember this a pre-cancer screening programme, not a test for cancer.

HPV triage testing:
Currently six areas in the UK are using HPV triage testing. This means that samples showing borderline or mild changes are tested for the high risk HPV and those who test positive for HPV are referred to Colposcopy. This has been very well-evaluated, and will be rolled out across the whole UK over the next year. This will speed up the process of those who need to go for further treatment and those who don’t. HPV testing will also include a ‘test of cure’, following treatment for abnormal cells, if the HPV test is negative this allows women to be returned to the normal screening intervals much more quickly.

This is a colposcope

This is a further examination. Cervical cancer is rare in the screening programme and only represents 2 in 10,000 women screened. If you get a moderate or severe result in your smear test, you’ll be referred straight to the Colposcopy department. Colposcopy is a procedure that’s similar to a smear test. You still have a speculum put inside you, but your nurse or doctor will use a colposcope to look at your cervix. The colposcope magnifies your cervix so that the nurse or doctor can really see what’s going on. The doctor or nurse will also apply a diluted vinegar solution to your cervix – acetic acid – which helps to show up any abnormalities. At this point, if they believe that you have severely abnormal cells, they make take a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis or they may suggest treatment immediately.  Again, don’t panic! Your healthcare providers will explain everything to you. All the treatments that you may be offered aim to do the same thing, get rid of the abnormal cells so normal ones will grow in their place. You’ll be able to have the treatments under a local anaesthetic and go home straight after treatment.

Find out more:

There’s some great detail and help here if you want to know more about the different kinds of treatment available to get rid of abnormal cells. Also, a reminder on what is HPV and how does it cause cervical cancer?


8 responses »

  1. Great post – having once been referred for a colposcopy, my doctor put the fear of God into me by suggesting that if nothing was done I would go on to develop cervical cancer (something which later doctors have suggested was a wild overstatement). I had a biopsy which apparently removed all the abnormal cells. Since then, every test has been completely normal. So definitely, don’t panic!

    • Glad to hear you’re doing so well & thanks for the comment. Hmm – it’s a tricky one – do we respond better to fear — so we don’t put things off? Or should we be given the actual facts… For me, I’d rather just be told the truth. Fear can backfire & make you panic & hide, after all…

      • It’s certainly worth making women aware how important a follow-up could be – but I’m not convinced heavy-handed scare tactics are the best way to go, especially when (as your post points out) most of the time, there’s really nothing to panic about.

      • I’m leaning more towards your side, to be honest – no need to scare people… just tell us the facts.

  2. Thank you for all the blog posts and posting updates on twitter regularly. Each day I see your posts and subconsciously think how I should be booking a smear test. Well, I booked one today – so thank you! The blog is really useful (I’ll be reccommending) and I will definitly be reminding my friends to go book their tests. Thanks again Nikki. x

  3. Remember too that even if your doctor does find cervical cancer it is no reason to panic!! Cervical cancer is very easy to treat and as my doctor told me when I was diagnosed “if you’re going to get cancer this is the best one to get”. If it is caught early the treatment is usually a simple LEEP procedure and you will be back on your feet in no time, usually with no follow up needed other than smear tests every 3 months until you go a year with normal ones. Again, if you have questions regarding treatment from someone who has been there then ask away! You can even private message me if you’d like it to be a little more private. BOOK YOUR TESTS LADIES! Early detection is the best prevention.

    • Aw, Brandy – you rock – thanks so much… just finishing tomorrow’s post, my mate Jade wrote it for me – sounds very similar to your experience. Im glad you two are both here. XXX


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