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The cervix is covered with a layer of skin-like cells on its outer surface; this is called the ectocervix or ectocervical cells. The result of your cervical screening test (smear test) is based on the examination of a sample of cells from the surface of the ectocervix. The test detects whether there are any changes to the cells that might make them abnormal.
Cells that are found in the cervical canal are called endocervical cells (glandular cells) these are different to the ectocervical cells. The transformation zone is the area where the endocervix meets the ectocervix. This is where the glandular cells of the endocervix normally change to the squamous cells of the ectocervix. In rare cases some women have endocervix cells that are abnormal and these abnormal areas are called glandular changes.
Having a cervical abnormality does not mean that you have cancer. It means that you have changes in some of the cells in your cervix that, if not treated, might develop into cervical cancer in time.
Not all types of cervical abnormalities require treatment. This decision is made according to the type of changes seen in the cervical cells and, depending on where you live, HPV testing may also be offered to help decide if treatment is needed.
Low grade changes (often called low grade dyskaryosis, mild or borderline changes, or CIN1) usually require no treatment. Depending on where in the UK you live, you may require further monitoring or a visit to colposcopy.
High grade changes (also called moderate or severe dyskaryosis, or CIN2 or 3) or abnormal glandular cells (also known as glandular dyskaryosis) will usually require treatment to remove the abnormal areas. You will be asked to attend colposcopy to investigate further.
For women requiring treatment, this treatment has been shown to reduce the risk of cervical cancer by 95%. However, even after treatment you will have a slightly greater risk of developing cervical cancer than women who have not had cervical abnormalities. It is, therefore, very important that you continue to attend regular check-ups, even after your treatment. Studies have found that the vast majority of women who have been treated for cervical abnormalities do not develop cervical cancer, even up to eight years after treatment .
You can find support from women who know what you are going through on our online Forum. Our Helpline is also available if you want to talk to someone about how you're feeling: 0808 802 8000.