The cervical smear test is designed to pick up minor changes before any serious problems develop. One in twelve smears is abnormal, so it is not uncommon to have an abnormal result. It is extremely rare for any abnormality to be cancer.
Nearly all abnormal smears show no more than minor changes in cells on the cervix (the neck of the womb). However it is important to act on these early warning signs and manage the minor changes appropriately. It is extremely rare for a woman to develop cancer if they have regular smears and colposcopy when appropriate. If you think you need a smear test, please contact 132 Healthwise.
An abnormal result usually means that minor changes exist in the cells on the cervix. These are called dyskarosis or dyskaryotic cells. In many cases, these minor cell changes return to normal on their own. However in some cases, these cell changes may lead to cancer in the future. It is therefore necessary to have an examination called a colposcopy, to show what treatment is needed. Treatment is simple and 95-98% effective at first treatment. For the 2-5% when it is not successful at first treatment, repeat treatment is again 95% effective and it is very unlikely that third treatment will not work.
If a biopsy confirms cell changes, the technical term used to describe the cell changes is cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia, more commonly known as CIN.
In order to make distinctions between the various stages of change, doctors have developed a scale from 1 to 3, according to how many of the cells are affected. There is a borderline change between a normal smear and CIN 1.
CIN 1 means that only a third of the cells in the affected area are abnormal. These may be either left to return to normal, or may be treated.
CIN 2 means that up to two thirds of the cells in the affected are abnormal. Treatment will usually be needed to return the cells to normal.
CIN 3 means that all the cells in the affected area are abnormal. Treatment will be needed to return the cells to normal.