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Cervical Screening

Receiving cervical screening test results

Cervical screening test results are normally sent to women in writing between 2-6 weeks after the test. However, methods of receiving results and timing vary in different parts of the country and depending on the type of result.

“When you have the test, the doctor or nurse will tell you how, where and approximately when you will get your results. Make sure you have received this information before you leave the surgery or clinic.”  - NHS Cancer Screening Programme - Cervical screening 'The Facts' 2015.

Since the introduction of liquid based cytology, women are receiving their test results much more quickly. In England, the majority of women now receive their cervical screening results within two weeks of their test.(NHS Cervical Screening Programme Annual Review 2012).

Many of the women we interviewed had been told by the practice nurse or doctor during their cervical screening test, when and how they would receive their results. All women should receive confirmation of their results in writing and are entitled to request that this is done.

Many women who had received a normal screening test result were happy to be informed by letter. One woman received her screening test result by letter when she was living in one geographical area yet in a different area she was advised to assume her result was normal if she did not receive a letter. In some parts of the country, women were invited to telephone the surgery for their results within a set period of time after their screening test. Some women liked this way of receiving their results because it meant they didn’t have to wait for a letter to arrive and they received their results quite quickly.

 

Christine's liquid-based cytology screening test results came back quicker than they had done in...

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Christine's liquid-based cytology screening test results came back quicker than they had done in...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Liquid-based cytology I had, which is a lot quicker. And the results come back a lot quicker. It used to take at least six weeks for the results to come back on the old way. But on this new one, it usually takes two to three weeks which I find is nice for, for everybody, especially if they worry about having smears and what the results can be or will be.
 
How do you actually get your results?
 
By post. The result goes back to the surgery by a courier from the hospital. I think I believe it’s a receptionist or a secretary puts it onto the screen. Where then the secretary would write us a letter to say either your smear has come back okay or, they don’t write that they found a problem. They just would write RE' results of your smear would you please make an appointment with the nurse or the doctor.’ And that’s the way we get it and we get it in the post, so it goes out that same day first class.
 

The way women were told that they have had an abnormal test result seemed to affect how they reacted and coped with their feelings of anxiety and fear. Several received their results by letter or by telephone which some women said made them feel more anxious. Some said they would have preferred to receive their test results from their doctor in person so they could discuss their concerns immediately. Others said they believed they would have been more anxious if they were asked to make an appointment with their doctor.

 

Receiving an abnormal result by letter frightened her.

Receiving an abnormal result by letter frightened her.

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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Yeah, I spoke to the doctor and she, they did say it was just like borderline but it was just that initial, getting that letter, but they had tried, they said they had tried to phoneme but they couldn't get me so they sent me the letter, that's what frightened mebecause it's just a, a basic letter.

So how would you have liked to have been told?

I think I'd have rather been asked to come in and see the doctor rather than just get that letter. I don't think it's nice the way it's done, because it does frighten you.

And what did the letter say?

It just said that your smear test was, there were abnormalities found and that they, I was being referred to colposcopy and then they just put the leaflet in with like all the details and it just made it look like I'd got cancer. It frightened me.

 

She would have liked to have spoken to a doctor immediately after receiving her abnormal result.

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She would have liked to have spoken to a doctor immediately after receiving her abnormal result.

Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 21
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Yes, because it comes with a little leaflet as well, talking about dyskariosis and this and that and great. I think when you do, I really do think people should be able to as soon as they get that book in with the doctor, talk about those changes because I don't know it's just so difficult. When you want to make the appointment you can't meet with the person you want to meet at the relative time, you can't take time off work. It is so difficult so it would be nice to have someone there to talk you through it. I was lucky because there are people at work whose relatives are doctors, nurses whatever so you can talk about what the terms mean and what could be happening.

 

She preferred to receive her abnormal cervical screening result by letter rather than being asked to make an...

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She preferred to receive her abnormal cervical screening result by letter rather than being asked to make an...

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 44
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Well I was very upset when I got it and I, but if I'd have heard from the surgery that I had, if the surgery had rang me up I would've been more worried. Because I know I was worried when I got the letter but I would've been a lot more worried to get a phone call to say the doctor wants to see you about your results because your imagination would've been a lot worse

Women who received a normal test result by letter said that it stated that their result was “normal” and an indication was given of when their next test was due.

Several women who received an inadequate test result mentioned that their results letter included an explanation that insufficient cells had been taken and they were asked to have a repeat test (see Normal and inadequate test results).

Information given to women at the time they received their abnormal test varied. Several received an information leaflet (What your abnormal result means’). Others only had a results letter stating that their result was 'abnormal' and they were told what further tests, if any, were needed. A few were given information the same time as their result over the telephone (see Abnormal test results).

Preferences for ways of communicating test results varied according to individual women. However, important to many women was a personal touch, recognition by doctors of the considerable worry many women feel when they receive an abnormal result and ways to make it easier for women to contact their doctor or a nurse to discuss their result. 

 

It is important to be treated personally when receiving an abnormal test result for the first time.

It is important to be treated personally when receiving an abnormal test result for the first time.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 54
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Right from the Clinical Nurse Practitioner that did the first smear, that phoned me at home with the results that was absolutely fantastic and I don't, I can't think of many places that that would happen. I'd like to think it would happen to most women everywhere that I was treated very personally and not just one of a number, I think that's important that every woman is treated that, you know this is the first time it's happened to this woman you know let's tell her, let her down lightly, let's tell her gradually and not to worry. Not in a black and white written letter.

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Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.
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