Cervical abnormalities: CIN3 and CGIN

Feelings about abnormal results

An abnormal result is not unusual. "Out of 100 women who have cervical screening, about 6 will have abnormal cells in their sample” (NHS Cervical Screening leaflet, ‘Helping you decide’, May 2017). Nearly all abnormal results show no more than small changes in cells. Some abnormal changes may disappear without the need for any treatment.

Getting an abnormal test result can cause shock and anxiety. Everyone is different and women’s reactions ranged from those who didn’t feel worried at all to those who felt very shocked and frightened.

Most of the women we interviewed had been for routine cervical screening and had experienced no symptoms. They were not expecting to have anything wrong and many had thought little about the results after having the test. Some were told by letter that they had abnormal changes that needed further investigation. Several said they were not worried at this stage because they’d had abnormal results before and nothing had been wrong. Others said they’d been given enough information to feel reassured that the abnormal changes were not cancerous and treatable. A few women had been screened soon after having a baby and assumed the result might be related to hormonal changes.

Some of the women we spoke to were told by letter or phone that they had CIN3, severe dyskaryosis or dysplasia and needed a colposcopy examination (a detailed examination of the cervix). This often came as a shock or ‘bolt from the blue’, particularly when they had had no symptoms.

Some of the women we interviewed were confused because they’d never come across the terms used in the results letter, such as severe dyskaryosis, dysplasia or CIN3. Many were very worried that they had cancer but found little reassurance when they looked on the internet for information – they were unsure what to look for or which sites were reliable, and found some very frightening information on CIN. Often women thought the worst and the word ‘pre-cancer’ was frightening. It is extremely rare for an abnormality found at screening to be cancer. Many thought that more information at this point or advice on where to find more information would have been helpful. Several women would have liked a telephone conversation with a nurse after getting their results so they could ask questions and get information (see ‘Information’). Joanne unfortunately received her results by letter on a Friday and she had the weekend to worry before she could speak to a nurse.

One woman said she felt shocked and scared but needed to continue with normal life because she had four young children to care for. Her partner was also ill at the time. Another, a nurse, said she felt guilty because she never thought a health problem would affect her. She was used to looking after other people but never thought she would get ill herself. Two women felt anger and blame because they believed that ex-boyfriends who had cheated on them had caused the problem.

A few women had been particularly concerned because they were planning to start a family. One of them was planning to have IVF treatment, which had to be delayed until after treatment. Many were concerned about the impact of treatment on their fertility and future pregnancies (see ‘Fertility and pregnancy).

Some of the women we spoke to felt upset and tearful. Several had found it helpful to talk to other women who’d had abnormal results in the past. Some of these women said they felt very isolated but gained reassurance after reading information on Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, a website dedicated to women, their families and friends affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. Many also gained support by reading about the experiences of other women, and found this helpful.

Sometimes, though, talking to other people who hadn’t experienced abnormal cells didn’t help because, although other people were trying to be reassuring, no one really knew what would happen.

Some of the women we interviewed were told that the abnormal changes found through cervical screening could be cervical cancer but they would only know after the colposcopy or treatment.

Several women said they felt particularly worried because, at the time, there was a lot of media publicity on reality TV star Jade Goody’s experience of cervical cancer. During this time, some found that getting a screening appointment or results took much longer than normal.

Waiting for the colposcopy appointment was a very difficult time and, for some, it was the hardest time of all (see ‘The colposcopy examination’).

More experiences of abnormal test results can be found on our - Cervical Screening site.

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Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated July 2017.


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