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What happens at a colposcopy appointment

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.

Read more about our support services >

We also have some tips that, although written for cervical screening, might also be helpful for colposcopy.

Read our cervical screening tips >

Can I take someone with me?

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.

 

What happens at a colposcopy appointment?

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.

 

Someone having colposcopy

 Someone at a colposcopy appointment

Liquid tests

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:

  • Acetic acid (sometimes called dilute vinegar) — your colposcopist will put a small amount on your cervix using a cotton wool ball or with a spray. It can show cell changes by turning them white. You may feel some stinging.
  • Iodine — your colposcopist might put a liquid called iodine solution on your cervix. It stains normal cervical tissue dark brown. Cell changes may not stain, so the colposcopist can see them. This is sometimes called ‘Schiller’s iodine test’.

Taking a biopsy

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.

Read more about colposcopy results >

 

Watch the video below to find out what happens at a colposcopy appointment:

 

If you have treatment at your first 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.

Read more about treating cervical cell changes >

 

At the end of your colposcopy appointment

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.

Read more about colposcopy results >

 

After your colposcopy appointment

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.

How you might feel after colposcopy

Afterwards, you may have:

  • cramps, like period pains
  • light bleeding (spotting)
  • discharge (a liquid that comes out of your body) from your vagina that is brown or has blood in it.

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:

  • have vaginal sex
  • use tampons or menstrual cups
  • go swimming
  • use vaginal medications, lubricants or creams.

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.

How you might feel after treatment

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:

  • cramps, like period pains
  • bleeding or discharge that is brown or has blood in it — the flow is usually like a moderate period

These effects will stop for most people after 4 weeks. During this time after treatment, it’s best not to:

  • have vaginal sex
  • use tampons or menstrual cups
  • go swimming
  • have baths — it is okay to shower
  • put water or other liquids inside your vagina (vaginal douching)
  • use vaginal medications, lubricants or creams.

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.

Read more about our support services >

 

Information and support

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 answer some common questions about colposcopy on our Colposcopy FAQs page
  • If you want to talk through anything, or simply have someone listen to how you’re feeling, you can call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000 — our opening hours are here
  • We have a welcoming community in our online Forum, where you can get and give support. There are lots of online conversations about colposcopy — you can choose to read existing threads or post your own messages.

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. 

References

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

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Date last updated: 
11 Sep 2023
Date due for review: 
11 Sep 2026
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