My first Cervical Screening Test - what to expect

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My first Cervical Screening Test - what to expect?

Your first Cervical Screening Test (CST) should take just a few minutes. Some women may find the procedure uncomfortable, but there should be no pain. If you have previously had a Pap test, the CST will feel the same.

Try to stay as relaxed as possible.  This will make the test easier for you and the doctor.

  • The doctor or nurse will ask you to undress from the waist down, and to lie on your back or side.  A sheet will be put across your stomach and thighs to make you feel more comfortable.
  • Once you are comfortable, you will be asked to bend your knees so your heels are near your bottom.  The doctor or nurse will insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina.  The speculum allows a clear view of the cervix.
  • Once the speculum is in place, a brush is inserted to take a sample of cells from the cervix.  This may feel a bit uncomfortable but should not be painful. You can ask the doctor or nurse to stop at any time. This part of the test takes only a few seconds.  Once the doctor or nurse has taken the sample they will remove the speculum and you will be able to get dressed.
  • The doctor places the brush used to take the sample into a tube of liquid. The sample is sent to the laboratory which checks for the presence of HPV.

It usually takes around two weeks to get your results.  Check with your health care provider when they expect to get them back.

If HPV is not detected, you will need to come back in five years’ time for your next CST.  An invitation from the National Cancer Screening Register will remind you. (You will not receive an invitation if you have Opted Out of the register).

Women who have HPV positive tests will undergo more investigations on the same sample.  Your doctor will let you know what the next step is.  Depending on the test results, you may have a repeat CST in 12 months.  This is to see if the HPV infection has cleared.  Or you may have a follow-up procedure called a colposcopy.

It is important to remember that the body usually clears HPV infections.  Most abnormal cells are not cervical cancer.  These are usually treated quickly and painlessly.

What does my test result mean?

There are four possible types of results from the CST. These are:

Low risk (HPV not detected)

This means that no HPV has been found on your test. The chance of developing cervical cell changes in the next five years is low. Evidence shows that screening for HPV every 5 years is safe. You will receive an invitation for your next CST in 5 years.

Intermediate risk

Your results show that you do NOT have HPV types 16 or 18 (the highest risk types). But you have one of the other HPV types. The sample has been tested for cervical cell changes. You have either no cell changes or only minor (low-grade) cell changes on your cervix. Your body will usually clear the infection (and any cell changes).  You need to have a follow-up HPV test in 12 months.

Higher risk

Your test results show either:

  • HPV infection with types 16 and/or 18;
  • Persistent infection with one of the other HPV types; or
  • High grade cell changes on your cervix.

Your screening results show you have a higher risk type of HPV infection. This requires further investigation from a specialist. The test has indicated that you have abnormalities that require specialist investigation and/or treatment. This does not mean you have developed cervical cancer. It normally takes about 10-15 years for cervical cancer to develop after an HPV infection. You will need to see a specialist for a follow-up test and/or treatment.

Unsatisfactory

There are many reasons why an unsatisfactory test result occurs:

  • there may not be enough cells to perform all the tests needed, or
  • there may be other substances present.

An unsatisfactory result is not a cause for concern. It is important you repeat the CST.