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If you have recently had a smear test that showed some abnormalities, you will probably have a colposcopy. This is an examination of the cervix (neck of the womb) using a binocular microscope called a colposcope. It’s a routine and painless procedure that is carried out by a specialist doctor or nurse to ensure that there are no signs of cervical cancer.

Why you might need it

A colposcopy is a common procedure that makes sure that you do not have any signs of cervical cancer. It happens to around one in 20 women whose cervical screening test shows some possible abnormalities. Less than one woman in 1,000 who are referred for a colposcopy is found to have cervical cancer needing immediate treatment. (source: NHS Choices)

Possible reasons you may need a colposcopy include:

  • abnormal cervical cells - but not necessarily cancerous - following a cervical screening
  • you have human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the main cause of the abnormal cell changes and could lead to cancer
  • it wasn't possible to get a result despite having several screening tests
  • your cervix did not look as healthy as it should when you had your screening test.

This examination can also sometimes be used to investigate:

  • unexplained vaginal bleeding, for example, after sex
  • inflammation of the cervix
  • polyps and cysts - benign (non-cancerous) growths
  • genital warts on the cervix.

The aim of having this examination is to spot problems early on before anything more serious develops and to prevent that from happening.

The procedure only takes five minutes and if abnormal areas are spotted, a small tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken.

Further treatment can be carried out immediately after the examination, if necessary. For example, a common procedure called a large loop excision involves your doctor removing abnormal cells with a thin wire loop that is heated with an electric current. This can be carried out using a local anaesthetic.

Who will do it?

Our patients are at the heart of what we do and we want you to be in control of your care. To us, that means you can choose the consultant you want to see, and when you want. They'll be with you every step of the way.

All of our consultants are of the highest calibre and benefit from working in our modern, well-equipped hospitals.

Our consultants have high standards to meet, often holding specialist NHS posts and delivering expertise in complex sub-speciality surgeries. Many of our consultants have international reputations for their research in their specialised field.

Before your treatment

You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.

We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.

Preparing for your treatment

We've tried to make your experience with us as easy and relaxed as possible.

For more information on visiting hours, our food, what to pack if you're staying with us, parking and all those other important practicalities, please visit our patient information pages.

Our dedicated team will also give you tailored advice to follow in the run up to your visit.

You can’t have this procedure during your period. You should also avoid having sex and not use vaginal medications, lubricants, creams, or tampons for at least 24 hours before treatment.

The procedure

We understand that having an examination can often be a time of anxiety and worry, but our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you every step of the way.

You will be asked to sit in a special chair with padded supports, where you can rest your legs.

Your specialist, known as a colposcopist, will insert a speculum into your vagina, which is gently opened to allow them to examine your cervix - as happens during a smear test. Your colposcopist will then examine your cervix using a colposcope (a binocular microscope) with a strong light that will remain outside your body. After this, the colposcopist will dab different liquids onto your cervix that will stain abnormal cells a different colour so they can be seen more clearly.

If any abnormal area is identified, a small sample of tissue will be taken from the surface of the cervix.

This biopsy is about the size of a pinhead and you may feel a slight stinging, but it should not be painful. If there is an obvious abnormality, or if you have had a previous positive biopsy result, treatment may be needed. Most often, that treatment is loop excision. This can be done during the same appointment or carried out at a later visit.

For loop excision, a local anaesthetic will be injected into your cervix to numb the area. A loop of fine wire with an electric current flowing through it is then used to remove abnormal cells. If a larger area has to be treated, you might be given a general anaesthetic so you will be asleep during the procedure.

Alternatively, abnormal cells can be destroyed by freezing, heat or laser treatment. Your doctor will discuss these options with you if further treatment is needed.

Aftercare

Colposcopy is carried out as an out-patient or day care procedure depending upon the location and anaesthesia is often not necessary.

If you have had loop excision, freezing, heat or laser treatment, you will have been given either a local or general anaesthetic.

After this, you will be taken to your room or comfortable area where you can rest and recuperate until we feel you’re ready to go home.

If you have had a biopsy, the results will be ready one to two weeks later and will usually be sent to your gynaecologist. He or she will either send you a letter explaining the results, or may discuss them with you at a follow-up appointment.


Pain relief

This procedure should be painless, although a small sample of cervical tissue may be taken and sent for laboratory analysis. A small number of women may have heavy bleeding after the procedure. Occasionally an infection may develop. We will make sure this is treated with antibiotics. If you need them, continue taking painkillers as advised by the hospital.

We will provide you with a supply of all the medicines your consultant feels you need to take home with you after you've left hospital, up to 14 days. This may be at an additional cost to some patients.


Recovery time

After the procedure, you might experience some vaginal discharge and/or bleeding, similar to a light period. This should clear up after two weeks but may last for up to six weeks. You should be able to return to work the following day.

To help reduce the risk of infection, you should avoid swimming, sexual intercourse and tampons until the discharge has cleared up. Your gynaecologist will give you specific advice.

Healing is usually very rapid. The small area left behind after the abnormal cells are removed fills up quickly and normal tissue grows over.

You may find that your first period following the procedure is heavier or more prolonged than usual and that your periods are irregular for a couple of months.


Looking after you

Even once you’ve left hospital, we’re still here for you. On rare occasions, complications following a colposcopy can occur. If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, please call us straight away:

  • heavy bleeding
  • severe pain
  • pain that lasts more than 48 hours
  • fever or high temperature
  • vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant.

We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.

If you have any questions or concerns, we’re ready to help.

Why choose Spire?

We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.

How much does it cost?

A fixed price for this treatment may be available on enquiry and following an initial consultation.

You can trust Spire Bristol Hospital to provide you with a single, fixed price* so there are no surprises. And, through our carefully chosen partner you can even be considered for interest free finance.

We’re here to help you with making these important choices, so you’re then free to concentrate on your treatment and on getting back to being you.

Important: Please read Spire’s terms and conditions for full details of what’s included and excluded in your fixed price* when paying for yourself.

* Zebra Finance Ltd trading as Zebra Health Finance , Lincoln House, Stephensons Way, Wyvern Business Park, Derby, DE21 6LY. 

Important to note

The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.