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Colposcopy is an examination to take a closer look at your cervix. You may feel nervous about going to colposcopy, especially if you’re not sure what to expect. On this page, we talk through each step of the appointment, as well as giving some tips that may make your experience better.
Remember, if you need more support we are here before and after your appointment. Whether you just want to talk things through or have a specific question, one of our support services may be able to help.
Your appointment will happen in the coloscopy clinic at a hospital. It usually takes between 15 and 30 minutes, but may take longer at the moment because of safety measures the hospital will have in place.
The hospital wants to keep you and your healthcare team protected from coronavirus, so they will be following government guidance on social distancing and using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Hospitals are following social distancing guidance – trying to limit the number of people in a space to reduce the potential spread of coronavirus. This means you will not be able to bring anyone to the appointment with you.
We know that not having someone there for support may be difficult, but remember that your healthcare team are there to give you support too. If you have travelled with someone by car, you could ask them to wait in the car for you, so they are there once your appointment is over.
Social distancing also means only necessary staff will be with you during your colposcopy examination.
Louise, who had LLETZ
Every colposcopy clinic will follow their local guidance about wearing PPE. PPE includes gloves, aprons, appropriate masks and, in some departments, visors.
Jill and Jilly, who work in a colposcopy clinic and helped write this information, shared a photograph of themselves wearing PPE (below). They told us, “We’re here to support everyone who comes to colposcopy. We know it can be an anxious time for many women coming to the clinic, but we want to reassure you that it is safe to come. We know the masks and visors might be off-putting, but we’re the same people underneath and still smiling!”
National guidance says face coverings are mandatory in indoor spaces, so you will need to wear a face covering to your appointment. However, if you can't wear a face covering for any reason, let your doctor or nurse know as they will support you to still attend your appointment.
At the start of the appointment, your colposcopist will invite you into an examination room. They will explain why you have been invited and what will happen during the appointment. You can use this time to ask any questions and ask for anything that will make the examination better for you. We have some tips that, although written for cervical screening, might also be helpful for colposcopy.
Your colposcopist will give you a private space to undress from the waist down and ask you to lie on an examination bed. Some colposcopy clinics have an extra screen next to the bed, in case you want to watch the examination.
Like during cervical screening, your colposcopist will gently put a new, clean speculum into your vagina. A speculum is usually a plastic cylinder with a round end – sometimes a metal speculum is used. Your colposcopist will use a microscope with a light at the end to have a detailed look at your cervix. This is called a colposcope. The microscope stays outside your body.
Your colposcopist will usually put some liquid on your cervix. This helps show any areas where there are cell changes.
Most colposcopists use a combination of acetic acid and Schiller’s iodine tests:
Your colposcopist may take a sample of tissue from your cervix. This is sometimes called a punch biopsy.
A biopsy only takes a small sample of tissue, so most people don’t have local anaesthetic. If you would like local anaesthetic, ask your colposcopist. If you are very nervous or overwhelmed, talk to the hospital before your appointment about the possibility of having a general anaesthetic.
Your colposcopist will explain the biopsy before they take it. Some people find it uncomfortable, but it should not be painful. Remember, you are in control and if it hurts you can ask your colposcopist to stop.
Your colposcopist will take between 1 to 3 biopsies to make sure they have enough tissue from different areas of the cervix. They send the sample of tissue to a laboratory for testing.
Sometimes, your colposcopist can tell that cell changes need treatment during your first colposcopy appointment. This is sometimes called 'see and treat'. Any treatment should be explained to you before it happens and only done with your consent. You can ask as many questions as you need to before and, if you need more time to process the thought of treatment, ask to have it done at another appointment.
The most common treatment is a large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ). This removes a small area of the cervix where the cell changes are. You will have a local anaesthetic before LLETZ, which numbs the area being treated.
After the examination, your colposcopist will check you feel okay and whether you have any questions. They should give you information about what to expect after your appointment, such as light bleeding (spotting). This may include contact numbers for the colposcopy clinic, in case you have any questions over the next few months.
Sometimes, your colposcopist can tell you if they found anything straight away, but sometimes they need to confirm the result from your biopsy. They will also let you know when you will get your results.
You can leave the hospital as soon as you feel ready. You can go to work or do any other activities as usual, although you may prefer to rest.
Once you are home from your appointment, it is important to follow the government guidance about washing your hands and any face coverings.
If you had a biopsy, you may have:
This can be worrying, but try to remember that these effects are common and often stop after 3 to 5 days.
If you have light bleeding or discharge, wait until it stops before you:
If the bleeding continues for longer than a week or gets heavier, contact your colposcopist or hospital. You should also contact them if you are worried about anything else.
If you had treatment, you may have different effects. These are common, but can be worrying if you aren’t sure what to expect, so learning more about them can help.
We know colposcopy can be emotionally difficult too, so remember we are here to support you before and after.
At the moment, you will probably not be able to have anyone in the hospital with you during colposcopy. This is because of the safety measures in place to protect you and health workers from coronavirus.
If someone has driven you to hospital, you can ask them to wait in the car so they are there to give you support after the appointment. Remember, your healthcare team are there to support you too, and will do everything they can to make you feel safe and comfortable.
If you want to talk through anything or understand your options, remember we are here to support you too.
A punch biopsy is when a small piece of cervical tissue is taken during colposcopy. The name is often shortened to biopsy.
The biopsy is sent to a laboratory to test:
Your colposcopist will usually take more than one punch biopsy, to make sure the results are as accurate as possible.
Everyone’s experience of a punch biopsy is different. Some people do not feel anything, while others find it uncomfortable. The area may feel tender or ache during and after the biopsy.
Remember, you are in control during colposcopy, so let your colposcopist know if it hurts. They will be able to give you the right support.
After colposcopy, it is important to listen to your body and take any time you need to rest. Remember, we all heal at different rates, so what feels right for someone else may not be right for you.
If you have had a biopsy, you may feel okay to do your usual exercise straight away.
If you have had treatment, you may take a little longer to heal, but you can exercise as soon as you feel ready. Any side effects of treatment can last for about 4 weeks, so you may want to avoid heavy exercise during that time. If you do exercise, any bleeding may get a little heavier after.
If you have any worries or want to ask about a specific exercise, speak with your colposcopist.
Sometimes, a biopsy or treatment you have at colposcopy can cause bleeding or changes to your vaginal discharge. If this happens, it is best to wait until this has stopped before you have vaginal penetrative sex. This includes:
The general rule is don’t put anything in your vagina while you have any side effects. If you want to have anal sex or clitoral stimulation, this shouldn’t make any side effects worse.
If you are worried or have specific questions, it is best to speak to your colposcopist or GP, who knows your full medical history.
Before and after your colposcopy appointment, you should get information from the hospital explaining what will happen. If you haven’t had any information, remember you can always contact the hospital and ask for some. We hope this page has helped answer some questions too. We have more information about:
Remember, we are here to support you and our services are open if you want to talk through anything or simply have someone listen to your concerns on 0808 802 8000.
We also have a welcoming community in our online Forum, where you can get and give support. There are lots of conversations about colposcopy, so you can choose to read existing threads or post your own messages.
If you have general questions about colposcopy, our Ask the Expert service may be able to help. Submit your question confidentially to our panel of experts and get a tailored reply.
Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.
We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]