A colposcopy is a quick and simple examination that allows a specialist to assess a potential abnormality in your vagina or on your cervix and to decide on any treatment, if required.
You may be recommended to have a colposcopy following ‘abnormal’ results from a routine cervical screening (‘smear’) test. This is usually nothing to worry about as about one in ten of these results are abnormal and less than one in a thousand women who are referred to have a colposcopy are found to have cervical cancer that needs immediate treatment.
Other reasons for being recommended to have a colposcopy include; being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV); if you’ve had several smear tests but it’s not been possible to get a result; or if, following an examination, your doctor has any concerns about the health of your cervix.
A large magnifying glass (colposcope) is used to examine the cervix and vaginal area - this instrument doesn’t go inside you so, for most women this is a painless examination, but a speculum like the one used for a smear is used so some may find it a bit uncomfortable. A colposcopy can be carried out safely during pregnancy.
If an abnormal area of tissue is identified, a small biopsy (sample of tissue about the size of a pinhead) may be taken from the surface of the cervix for further analysis. You may feel a slight scratch or stinging, but it should not be painful.
Sometimes treatment to remove abnormal cells can be carried out during the colposcopy, and this will usually be carried out under a local anaesthetic so the area to be treated is numbed. A heated wire loop (loop excision) can be used to remove the abnormal cells, a procedure which is around 90% successful.
A colposcopy should take around five minutes, but perhaps slightly longer if a biopsy is taken or if further treatment is carried out at the same time.
After a colposcopy you should be well enough to continue with your usual routine.
If you’ve had a biopsy or treatment, some bleeding is to be expected but occasionally, if it’s heavy, it may require further treatment. Following a biopsy you’ll most likely have only a light, bloodstained discharge for a few days following the procedure. This is normal and should clear by itself. To allow the area to heal it’s suggested you avoid intercourse or using tampons for up to 3 weeks following treatment.
It may take a few weeks before you get the result of the biopsy - we’ll let you know as soon as possible if any further treatment is required.
A colposcopy is a routine operation with low risks apart from some soreness and light bleeding following the procedure.