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After the smear is taken, your doctor or nurse will tell you when the result will be available and how to inform you of the result. The report is usually available within a few weeks. You may be contacted earlier if the smear could not be examined properly for some reasons or if abnormality is detected. The result of a cervical smear is usually reported using a standard set of terms in the Bethesda System.

(1) Interpretation of Results

(2) What is a "false negative" result?

(3) What is a "false positive" result?

(4) Implication of Different Results

 

(1) Interpretation of Results

It is important to remember that cervical smears look for changes before cancer develops.

  • A "negative" result means that no abnormal cell was found in your cervical smear specimen.
  • A "positive" or "abnormal" result usually means there are some early changes in the cells of your cervix. It does not necessarily mean that you already have cancer. It could be a reaction to a virus, or you may have pre-cancerous cells which need treatment to prevent cancer from developing. Your doctor will advise you on the necessary follow-up and further investigations.

(2) What is a "false negative" result?

Although cervical smear is currently the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer, no test is perfect. About 5-20% of cervical smears show false negative results which mean a cervical smear test is incorrectly reported as negative in the presence of abnormal lesion in the cervix. A false negative result may be due to sampling, transfer or laboratory problem. Therefore, even if your previous smear is reported as negative, it is important to have regular cervical screening to detect and treat early changes of the cervix so as to prevent cervical cancer which takes a long time to develop. You should also consult a doctor immediately if any vaginal symptoms develop.

(3) What is a "false positive" result?

If a cervical smear is incorrectly reported as abnormal for a normal cervix, this is called a “false positive” result. When a cervical smear is reported as abnormal, cervical smear may be repeated or colposcopy (a detailed examination of the cervix using a special microscope) may be performed. Through these examinations, false positive results will be detected and results of these investigations will show that the cervix is normal.

(4) Implication of Different Results

Results Meaning of results Suggested actions *
Normal (negative) No abnormal cells identified Routine cervical screening
Inadequate Insufficient cells or suboptimal smear specimen Repeat smear
ASCUS (Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance) Borderline cell changes which are not severe enough to be regarded as pre-cancerous. Majority of these changes will revert to normal on their own. Repeat smear in 6 months. If changes persist or become worse, you will be referred for colposcopy.
Alternatively, testing for high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) may be performed to determine the need for colposcopy.
LSIL (Low grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion) Mild cell changes. 85% will regress spontaneously over 2 years; about 15% will worsen. 0.1% will become invasive if left ignored. Need colposcopy ± biopsy. Treatment may be necessary.
HSIL (High grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion) Moderate or severe cell changes. There is 1-2% chance of becoming invasive cancer if untreated. Need colposcopy ± biopsy. Treatment is usually necessary after confirmation. After successful treatment, you are unlikely to have cervical cancer, if you continue to have regular cervical smears.
Invasive carcinoma Found cells with features suggestive of invasive cervical cancer Urgent referral to gynecologist for investigation

* Depending on the smear test result and the clinical condition, your doctor will provide advice on further management.

   
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