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OBJECTIVE: To describe the psychological impact on women of being tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) when smear test results are borderline or mildly dyskaryotic. DESIGN: Cross sectional questionnaire study. SETTING: Two centres participating in an English pilot study of HPV testing in women with borderline or mildly dyskaryotic smear test results. PARTICIPANTS: Women receiving borderline or mildly dyskaryotic smear test results tested for HPV and found to be HPV positive (n = 536) or HPV negative (n = 331); and women not tested for HPV with borderline or mildly dyskaryotic smear results (n = 143) or normal smear results (n = 366). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: State anxiety, distress, and concern about test result, assessed within four weeks of receipt of results. RESULTS: Women with borderline or mildly dyskaryotic smear results who were HPV positive were more anxious, distressed, and concerned than the other three groups. Three variables independently predicted anxiety in HPV positive women: younger age (beta = -0.11, P = 0.03), higher perceived risk of cervical cancer (beta = 0.17, P < 0.001), and reporting that they did not understand the meaning of test results (beta = 0.17, P = 0.001). Testing HPV negative was not reassuring: among women with abnormal smear test results, those who were HPV negative were no less anxious than those who were not tested for HPV. CONCLUSIONS: Informing women more effectively about the meaning of borderline or mildly dyskaryotic smear test results and HPV status, in particular about the absolute risks of cervical cancer and the prevalence of HPV infection, may avoid some anxiety for those who are HPV positive while achieving some reassurance for those who test HPV negative.

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Adult, Aged, Anxiety, Attitude to Health, Colposcopy, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, Humans, Middle Aged, Papillomavirus Infections, Pilot Projects, Stress, Psychological, Surveys and Questionnaires, Uterine Cervical Dysplasia, Uterine Cervical Neoplasms, Vaginal Smears