Women’s Health: What to Expect When Receiving Your Cancer Screening Results



A message from Dr. Unjali Malhotra, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical OfficerDr-Unjali-Malhotra.jpg

In my last article about the importance of regular screening, I emphasized that we need to continue getting our mammograms, Pap tests, and FIT tests – even if doing so is more challenging these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another thing that might prove a bit challenging is understanding our screening results, now that some of them are coming directly to us (via mail, or, if you have it, via the free, secure service known as MyCareCompass, from LifeLabs).

While it's great that people can now directly receive certain test results, including from their mammogram and Paps, some confusion might arise without a physician on hand to explain terms like “breast density," “benign," or “colposcopy." The wait time can also cause concern.

It is normal to be nervous about your pending results. We all want to know what is going on with our bodies so we can ensure we get the best care and are able to act on anything that could be preventable.

You have the right to ask for any explanation you need

Please be aware that you have rights: you have the right to ask your healthcare provider to explain your results in way that you can clearly understand (i.e., without medical jargon), you have the right to get a copy of your results, and you have the right to ask questions about the process, e.g., when will they come in, etc. You also have the right to bring a support person to any of these conversations.

This new way of sending results directly to you is to make the process more streamlined, not to stress you out! If you need more clarity, always ask. It is always your right!

Some facts about Pap test results

It may surprise you that a pap result can take up to 12 weeks to come in from the lab. This doesn't mean something is wrong! It just means that we have a large centralized system to keep things in one place, and that handling and organizing so many tests takes time. Don't be concerned if there is a delay; Pap changes don't happen quickly, so you will not be needing care within that 12 weeks.

Your results will likely simply say “normal" or “abnormal." If “abnormal," follow-up will be needed, but this does not mean you have cancer. It means you need to have an examination that may be a repeat pap smear or a visit to the colposcopy clinic. A colposcopy is a procedure to closely examine your cervix, vagina, and vulva for signs of disease. They may need to do a treatment to prevent cancer, but that will be explained to you beforehand. It is your right to have an advocate and/or to have a phone visit beforehand to have everything explained to you. For more information, visit the BC Cancer Society's page here.

Some facts about mammogram results

A mammogram is an X-ray imaging test that examines breast health. You will see the term “breast density" on your results. This relates to the amount of dense tissue vs. fatty tissue in your breasts. Breast density is related to breast cancer risk, but this is a small increase overall. It can also make it hard to read scans and you may need follow up or more frequent imaging as a result.

You will see something called the BI-RADs classification, which goes from 1 to 6. Higher numbers indicate a greater risk of breast cancer, however, these results are for screening purposes. They tell you if you need follow-up, not necessarily if you have cancer.  

One of the best things we can do for our overall​ health is to take part in regular screening. This schedule may act as a guide to help determine timing: https://www.fnha.ca/WellnessSite/WellnessDocuments/FNHA-Average-Risk-Screening-Chart.pdf. ​

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