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Colposcopy is an examination to take a closer look at your cervix. It is done by a specially trained nurse or doctor called a ‘colposcopist’ at a hospital or local clinic. It usually takes between 10–20 minutes. It may be longer depending on what happens during your appointment.
You may feel nervous about going to colposcopy, especially if you’re not sure what to expect. Here, we explain each step of the appointment.
If you feel you need support, we’re 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.
We also have some tips that, although written for cervical screening, might also be helpful for colposcopy.
You may be able to bring a friend, partner or relative with you if it makes you feel comfortable. If you contact the hospital or clinic when you get your appointment, they will let you know if this is possible.
Your colposcopist will invite you into an examination room. They will explain why you’ve been invited and what will happen. They may also ask some questions about your medical history. This is to help with the examination. You can use this time to ask questions and talk through anything that will make the examination better for you.
There will be a private space for you to undress from the waist down. You’ll also be given a paper sheet or towel to cover yourself with. Your colposcopist will ask you to lie on an examination bed. It will have some padded supports for you to put your legs or feet onto. In some clinics, there might be a screen next to the bed in case you want to watch the examination.
When you’re ready, your colposcopist will put a new, clean speculum into your vagina. A speculum is a plastic or metal tube which opens. It’s used so your colposcopist can have a clear view of your cervix. Your colposcopist will then use a microscope on a stand with a light to have a closer look at your cervix. This is called a ‘colposcope’. It stays outside your body.
Your colposcopist will usually put some liquid on your cervix. This helps to show any areas where there might be cell changes.
They may use a combination of liquids. These are:
Your colposcopist may take a sample of tissue from your cervix. This sample is smaller than a grain of rice and is called a ‘punch biopsy’. Sometimes it’s just called a ‘biopsy’.
If you need a biopsy, your colposcopist will explain this to you before you have one. Some people find it uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. Remember, you’re in control and if it hurts you can ask your colposcopist to stop.
If you’re nervous about having a biopsy, it’s sometimes possible to have the area numbed (local anaesthetic). It may also be possible to be asleep (general anaesthetic). If this would make you feel more comfortable, it’s best to contact your hospital or clinic before your appointment. They will talk through the options with you.
Your colposcopist might take more than one biopsy. This is to make sure they have enough tissue from different areas of your cervix. They then send the tissue to a laboratory for testing.
Watch the video below to find out what happens at a colposcopy appointment:
Sometimes, your colposcopist can see that cell changes need treatment during your first colposcopy appointment. This is called 'see and treat'.
Any treatment will be explained to you before it happens. Treatment is only given if you agree to have it. It’s okay to ask as many questions as you need to before. It’s also okay to ask for time to think about the treatment and to ask to have it done at another appointment.
The most common treatment is called large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ). This removes a small area of the cervix where the cell changes are. It’s usually done with a local anaesthetic which numbs just the area being treated. Sometimes you may need to be asleep with general anaesthetic during LLETZ. Your colposcopist will be able to talk to you more about this.
After the examination, your colposcopist will check you feel okay and whether you have any questions. They will also give you information about what to expect after your appointment. This should include contact numbers for the hospital or clinic, in case you have any questions afterwards.
Sometimes, your colposcopist can tell you if they found anything straight away. But they might need to wait to see what your biopsy shows in a laboratory. They can let you know when to expect your results.
You can leave the hospital or clinic as soon as you feel ready. After colposcopy, you can go to work or do any other activities as usual. But you may prefer to rest, particularly if you had treatment during your appointment. It’s important you listen to your body and do what feels right for you.
Afterwards, you may have:
Some of us may find these effects worrying. It might help to know that they’re common after colposcopy. You can have them even if you didn’t have a biopsy. They usually stop after a few days.
If you have spotting or discharge, it’s best to wait until it stops before you:
If the bleeding continues for longer than a week, or gets heavier, contact your GP or the hospital or clinic where you had your appointment.
You may have effects after treatment to remove cell changes. These can be scary if you aren’t sure what to expect.
After treatment to remove cell changes, it’s common to have:
These effects will stop for most people after 4 weeks. During this time after treatment, it’s best not to:
If you get a bad-smelling discharge or very heavy bleeding (soaking a sanitary pad in 1–2 hours), it’s important to contact the hospital or clinic where you had treatment, or to call:
We know colposcopy can be emotionally difficult too — we’re here to support you before and after.
Before and after your colposcopy appointment, you should get information from the hospital or clinic explaining what will happen. If you haven’t had any information, it’s best to contact the hospital or clinic and ask for some. You’ll also have the examination explained to you at your colposcopy appointment.
We’re here to support you too:
We would like to thank 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]