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 2 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…

Age at interview 57

Gender Female

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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.

Age at interview 40

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 34

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

Age at interview 30

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 21

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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

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 44

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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.

Age at interview 54

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 54

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