Discussing an abnormal Pap test result with your patients

About 5% of Pap test results in NSW are abnormal and, as the Pap test provider, you will have to inform some of your patients of this news.

As a Pap test provider, you will have your own system in place to ensure all patients are informed of their results. For example, you may encourage your patients to book a follow-up appointment to discuss the results. This will also enable you to check how your patient responds to the news. Many providers give results over the phone if they are normal.

A follow-up appointment is highly recommended for abnormal results. Explain what an ‘abnormal result’ means, that there are three types of abnormal results, and the implications of the result for this patient.

The most important message to provide to a woman whose test is abnormal is that there is only a very small likelihood that she has cervical cancer or will require treatment to avoid cervical cancer.

If your patient is upset

Some women become upset if their results are abnormal. A clear explanation from you about what the result does mean, and what the next steps should be, will be a major factor in how your patient handles the news.

It may help to refer your patients to this website, or to give them printed copies of relevant pages. It may also help to give them the booklet: 'An Abnormal Test Result – what this means for you', which outlines the meaning of the result and what happens next.

If there is a cervical cancer diagnosis

If the result indicates that cervical cancer has been detected, your patient will require additional emotional and psychological support. Your support will be invaluable, and you can also refer her to Cancer Council NSW and their helpline on 13 11 20. The Cancer Council have developed a book Understanding Cervical Cancer which may assist with explaining the diagnosis to your patient. 

If you can’t contact your patient

If you’re unable to contact a patient to inform her of her results, contact the Pap Test Register and they may be able to advise you if your patient has moved address. 

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