Pap test results
The results of your Pap test usually take one to two weeks. When you have your Pap test taken it is important that you ask your health practitioner when and how you will find out about the results (e.g. by phone or mail).
Most results are normal and you won't have to do anything else except remember to have another Pap test in two years time.
When your Pap test provider gives you the Pap test result, you will be told that the test was:
- normal or 'negative for cell changes'
- abnormal or sometimes people use the phrase ‘positive for cell changes’.
If your result is normal or ‘negative for cell changes’, it generally means you won’t have to do anything else except remember to have another Pap test in two years time or as advised by your health practitioner.
If you are registered with the ACT Cervical Screening Register a reminder will be sent to you if you are overdue for your next Pap test.
If you are told that your Pap test result is unsatisfactory, it usually means that the test result cannot be clearly read because there was an error in collecting or reading the test.
It is estimated that there is only a very small percentage of tests that are unsatisfactory. There are many reasons for unsatisfactory tests, including not enough cells in the sample or the cells may be obscured by blood or discharge or inflammation. In this case, you will be asked to have a repeat Pap test in 2-3 months as this time will allow the cells of the cervix to renew.
An abnormal Pap test result means that there is evidence of some changes to the cells on your cervix which are different in some way from the normal cells. The possible causes for an abnormal result include infection, hormonal changes or HPV. Try not to worry as almost all abnormal Pap test results rarely are cancer, and they can simply be minor infections that either clear up on their own or easily respond to treatment. It is important that you discuss your results with your health professional.
If you have very minor changes to the cells of the cervix, you may only need more frequent Pap tests to check to see if the changes clear naturally. This may be all that is needed because during this time the cervix may heal itself. Based on your results, your health professional should discuss what your results mean and what you should do next.
With more serious changes you may need treatment. You may be asked to have further examination through a colposcopy.
What is a colposcopy?
A colposcopy is a test used to give a closer view of the cervix. During a colposcopy the cervix is stained so that abnormal cells stand out from normal cells and a small sample or biopsy may be taken and sent to a laboratory to be tested.
There are a number of options for treatment, depending on the abnormality and you will need to be referred to a specialist for treatment. It is important that you discuss with your health practitioner what your results mean and what follow-up test or treatment that is best for you.
Changes are coming
In late 2017, a new more accurate Cervical Screening Test will replace the current Pap test. The new test is for women aged 25 to 74 years.
Until the changes come into effect, DO NOT delay having your regular Pap test. Call your health practitioner to book a Pap test today if you are due or overdue.
To find out more about the new Cervical Screening Test, including brief information about the changes, talk to your doctor or nurse or visit the National Cervical Screening Program website.
What is the ACT Cervical Screening Register?
The ACT Cervical Screening Register provides an important safety net for women. If you are registered with the ACT Cervical Screening Register and it does not receive your recommended follow-up Pap test or biopsy result within a specified time, your health practitioner is then contacted. Read more about the ACT Cervical Screening Register.
In late 2017, a new National Register will invite women to go for their Cervical Screening Test when they are due and will also remind women if they are overdue for their test.
To find out more about the new National Register, including brief information about the changes, talk to your doctor or nurse, or visit the National Cervical Screening Program website.
Read more in the An abnormal Pap smear result: What this means for you booklet, produced by the National Cervical Screening Program.