Understanding your Cervical Screening Test results

Find out what your test results mean, what to do if your test result is positive for HPV and what other tests are needed.

The Cervical Screening Test prevents cervical cancer by looking for the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and, if HPV is found, the test looks for any cell changes in the cervix. HPV is the cause of almost all cervical cancers.[1]

When will I receive my Cervical Screening Test results?

You should receive your results within two to three weeks of having your screening test. The laboratory that examined your sample will send the results to the general practice or clinic where you had your test. Your doctor or nurse will then contact you with the results. 

What results might I receive?

Your Cervical Screening Test indicates your results are normal which means you do not have an HPV infection. 

You will not need to have another Cervical Screening Test for five years because the chance of developing cervical disease within five years of having a normal result (no HPV found) is very low.

The National Cancer Screening Register will send you an invitation to remind you when to make an appointment for your next test with your doctor or nurse.

Remember: If you notice any symptoms between screens, such as unusual bleeding or pain, you should see your doctor rather than waiting for your next Cervical Screening Test.


What happens if I forget when my next Cervical Screening Test is due?

To find out when you are due for cervical screening, go to the National Cancer Screening Register’s online participant portal or call the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701. 

If the result of your Cervical Screening Test was ‘unsatisfactory’, it does not mean there is something wrong. An unsatisfactory result means your sample could not be tested properly by the laboratory.

If your test result is unsatisfactory, you will be asked to come back for another Cervical Screening Test in six to twelve weeks.

This will allow enough time for the cells in your cervix to renew, so another sample can be taken.

If you undertook self-collection, you may need to have a Cervical Screening Test with a health professional next time.

Your Cervical Screening Test shows you have an HPV infection which is likely to clear up within 12 months. You do not need further investigation straight away, but you do need to have another Cervical Screening Test in 12 months.

Your next test in 12 months will confirm if the infection has cleared up or not. If the infection has gone, your next test will be in five years.

If your next test in 12 months shows that you still have HPV, you will either need to come back in another 12 months to have a further Cervical Screening Test or you may need to visit a specialist for different tests. Your doctor or nurse will tell you what to do.

Learn more about HPV and cervical cancer >

Your Cervical Screening Test has shown that you either have a particular type of HPV infection that needs further investigation or that you have an HPV infection and some cervical cell changes that need to be checked by a specialist and which may require treatment.

This result does not mean you have cervical cancer. It takes a long time to develop cancer after a HPV infection, and it is not common.

It is important that you follow the instructions of your healthcare provider and talk to them if you have any questions about your results.

Find out more about HPV and its link with cervical cancer >

Your health professional will refer you to a specialist, usually a gynaecologist for a colposcopy. When you arrive at your colposcopy appointment it is important to ask questions to help you feel more comfortable. Ask the specialist to explain the procedure and to continue to explain what they are doing throughout the procedure.


A colposcopy is an examination of your cervix. The specialist uses a tool called a colposcope, which looks like binoculars on a stand, to get a magnified view of your cervix.

To have the colposcopy, you will lie on a bed with your legs supported. Like the Cervical Screening Test, the specialist will insert a speculum in your vagina, and then put a special liquid on your cervix to highlight any abnormal areas. The specialist looks carefully at your cervix through the colposcope. The colposcope does not enter your body.

A colposcopy usually takes about 10–15 minutes. It should not cause pain, but the insertion of the speculum and having it in place can be uncomfortable.


During the colposcopy, if areas of your cervix appear abnormal, the specialist may take a small sample of tissue for testing. This is called a biopsy.

It may take up to two weeks for the result of your biopsy to come back to your healthcare provider.

A biopsy can cause some pain, and you may have to avoid some activities such as rigorous exercise. Ask your specialist to let you know what you can and cannot do after a biopsy.

If an abnormality is found during your colposcopy, you may need treatment such as a wire loop excision, laser treatment, or a cone biopsy.

Wire loop excision

Abnormal cells are removed from your cervix with a wire loop. This usually takes 15–30 minutes. Most women have the procedure with a local anaesthetic, but some women need a general anaesthetic. If a general anaesthetic is advised or preferred, a one-day hospital stay may be necessary.


Laser treatment removes the abnormal cells using heat from a laser beam, which usually takes 15–30 minutes. Most women have the procedure with a local anaesthetic; however some need a general anaesthetic which may require a one-day hospital stay.

Cone biopsy

A minor operation to remove a cone-shaped section of the cervix containing abnormal cells. A general anaesthetic is usually needed, and a day or overnight hospital stay may be necessary.  


1. World Health Organisation. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Factsheet. WHO. [Online] 3 September 2010. [Cited: 19 May 2015.] http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/hpv/en/

2. National Cervical Screening Program. Available at: http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/healthcare-providers