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Abnormal Smear Test

An abnormal smear test occurs in about 1 in 12 cervical screening tests, but in nearly all cases does not mean cancer.

The medical term for describing abnormal cell changes is dyskaryosis. Dyskaryosis is not cancer and about 9 out of 10 cases revert back to normal on their own without treatment. Nearly all abnormal tests show no more than small changes in the cervical cells. It means that your smear test has done its job.

Diagnosis

Depending on the degree of abnormality, it may be necessary to have a repeat cervical screening test or be referred to a Consultant Gynaecologist for a colposcopy. The urgency of referral depends on the result of the cervical screening test:

  • Borderline change is the mildest abnormality result of cervical screening, with about 3-4% categorised as borderline. The cells are not abnormal enough to be categorised as dyskaryosis.
  • Mild dyskaryosis is a common abnormal result from cervical screening and about 2% of tests show mild abnormalities of cervical cells. In most cases, the abnormalities go back to normal without any treatment.
  • About 0.6% of smear tests show either moderate or severe dyskaryosis. However even with this result, it is still very unlikely that you will have cervical cancer. With moderate or severe dyskaryosis, the abnormalities are less likely to return to normal without treatment, so you will be referred to a Consultant Gynaecologist for colposcopy.
  • Less than 0.1% will have more serious abnormalities such as invasive or glandular neoplasia. Invasive neoplasia suggests cervical cancer might be present, but it is not proven until a biopsy has been taken during a colposcopy.
  • Glandular neoplasia suggests that there is an abnormality in the lining of the womb rather than on the cervix. Glandular neoplasia does not necessarily mean cancer, but you will need to be referred for colposcopy.

Cause

An abnormal smear test is often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). This is a very common infection and 60-70% women get it at some stage in life. Most women will shake it off through their immunity, but in some women it may linger on and cause an abnormal smear test.

Remember that it is rare for cervical cancer to be found on cervical screening. Cervical screening is designed to find early changes that could become cancer if left untreated.

Treatment

A colposcopy is a procedure where the lining of the cervix is closely examined using a magnifying instrument called a colposcope to check the cells for abnormalities. 

Modern colposcopy clinics are fitted with video equipment that allows the Consultant Gynaecologist to view the examination on a monitor. The patient is able to watch the procedure if they wish, to help reduce any nervousness and anxiety. 

After closer examination of the cervical cells, your Consultant will be able to determine the extent of any cell abnormalities and any treatment that is required. If the colposcopy confirms that there are cervical cell abnormalities, a biopsy may be carried out, removing a small sample of tissue for closer examination and testing. The treatment of abnormal cervical cells is almost always 100% successful. Following treatment, it is unlikely that any cell changes will occur in the future.

Wellwoman Clinic

The Wellwoman Clinic is a specialist centre offering assessment and treatment of gynaecological conditions. We treat women of all ages, prioritising patient needs and comfort throughout their treatment.

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Patient information

Our Hospital is renowned for providing exemplary levels of care across more than 90 services. From orthopaedics, to urology, our private GP practice and Urgent Care Clinic, our services are led by some of London’s leading Consultants. For more information, and to find a service suitable for your care, find out more about the services that we offer.

Make an enquiry

If you have any questions relating to treatment options or pricing information, get in touch with us by filling out one of our contact boxes or giving us a call on 020 7806 4098.

Our Appointments Team have a dedicated and caring approach to finding you the earliest appointment possible with the best specialist.

If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP for a consultation. You can simply refer yourself* and book an appointment.

If you have health insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa Health, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer to get authorisation before any treatment, and in most cases you will also require a referral letter from your GP.

If you are not registered with a GP, we have an in-house private GP practice you can use. Alternatively, we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstances.

*Please note – for investigations such as X-rays and MRIs, a referral will be required. However, we may be able to arrange this for you through our on-site private GP.

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