How common are abnormal cervical smear results?

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As the 13th most common cancer in the UK, cervical cancer has seen a significant rise in survival rates due to the cervical cancer screening programme. If you opt to undergo a cervical smear, knowing more about abnormal results in advance can make the process more comfortable.

What causes an abnormal cervical smear result?

Roughly 2% of cervical smears are returned as ‘inadequate’. While this isn’t an indicator of pre-cancerous changes, it does cause some worry for those who then need to return for a further smear. This can occur as a result of too few cells being collected or because there is inflammation in the area. Women who receive this result return for another test three to six months later.

Between 2% and 5% of women will receive an abnormal result that could indicate mild pre-cancerous changes, but will return future results that eventually return to normal, or their colposcopy will show no cancerous changes. Around one in ten smears show an abnormality and it’s relatively rare for said results to be cancerous.

Around 1-2% of women experience moderate to severe cervical changes, which warrants immediate referral for colposcopy. Again, progression to cervical cancer is still rare, but when this does happen the cervical screening process has usually allowed for an early enough positive to initiate successful treatment.

What are the benefits of regular screening?

Cervical cancer is a cancer that develops slowly, with the process lasting between 10 to 15 years. As such, regular screening gives women and their gynaecologists the opportunity to catch it early and initiate treatment that’s highly successful.

For those who do receive a result that indicates mild or borderline changes, it’s safe to allow the cells to return to normal by themselves. To ensure safety, some women undergo screening at more regular intervals to allow for the early detection of further changes, or they may undergo HPV testing to identify viruses that place them at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

If you are due for a cervical smear or if you’d like to explore your testing options further, ensure you consult a gynaecologist. We provide cervical smears and colposcopy at our gynaecology London clinic in Queen’s Hospital. For more information, contact us today on 020 7881 4181.

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