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.
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:
This examination can also sometimes be used to investigate:
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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.
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