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About colposcopy

 

  1. Onuki M. et al, Posttreatment human papillomavirus testing for residual or recurrent high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia: a pooled analysis, Journal of Gynaecological Oncology, 2016.

 

 

We know that you may feel anxious about being invited to colposcopy, and that coronavirus (COVID-19) might add an extra level of worry. Your colposcopy appointment may be postponed or be a little different because of the pandemic, but every decision is being made with your health and that of those looking after you as a priority.

We want you to feel as comfortable and confident as possible, so on this page we talk through:

  • what colposcopy is
  • why you may have been invited to colposcopy 
  • things to think about before your appointment.

If you want to talk anything through or have specific questions, our support services may be able to help. You can give our Helpline a call on 0808 802 8000 or join our forum to talk with others who have gone to colposcopy.

Get support > 

What is colposcopy?

Colposcopy is an examination to take a closer look at your cervix. An expert, called a colposcopist, does the examination. This is a different expert to the one at your cervical screening (smear test).

Colposcopy is used to both diagnose and treat cell changes (abnormal cells). If you need treatment, you may:

  • be diagnosed and treated during your first appointment
  • be invited to a separate appointment for treatment.

This decision will be made by you and your colposcopist, based on the grade of cell changes you have and your preference.

Many cell changes go away on their own, but some may develop into cervical cancer. Colposcopy helps identify whether cell changes need treatment to stop this happening. 

Read more about colposcopy results > 

Why have I been invited to colposcopy?

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the guidance on who is invited for colposcopy has been updated. The aim is to make sure you and health workers are as protected as possible by weighing up the risk of HPV and cell changes against the risk of coronavirus. 

If this is your first colposcopy appointment

The new guidance says you should be invited for colposcopy for one of these reasons:

  • Your cervical screening results suggest high-grade cell changes on the outer surface of the cervix or inside the cervical canal. 
  • The nurse or doctor who did your cervical screening test thought your cervix didn’t look as healthy as it should.
  • You have been referred because you have symptoms such as bleeding between periods, during or after sex, after the menopause or changes to vaginal discharge.

If your recent cervical screening results suggest low-grade cell changes, whether you are invited for colposcopy will depend on the capacity and safety measures in place where you live. It is best to contact your local colposcopy clinic for advice. Colposcopy clinics are keeping a database of everyone who has not been seen and will arrange an appointment in the future.

Read more about cell changes >

If this is your second or follow up colposcopy appointment

The new guidance says your colposcopy appointment should happen as planned if:

  • you had a biopsy that showed you need treatment 
  • you have been invited back for further assessment after your first colposcopy appointment
  • you are being monitored for CIN 2.

If you are waiting for a follow up test after treatment, this may be postponed for up to 6 months. We know this may be worrying, so it may help to know that treatment is usually very successful.

If you are not sure what is happening with your appointment or are worried, it is best to call your colposcopy clinic and ask. They will be able to give you guidance and support specific to your situation. 

Will I have a face-to-face colposcopy appointment?

Your colposcopy clinic will have a record of your cervical screening result and the reason why you have been referred to colposcopy. They will use this information alongside the risk of coronavirus to help decide whether you need a face-to-face appointment soon, or whether it is safe to postpone it. Every decision is made with your health as a priority.

If it is not necessary for you to have a face-to-face appointment, some colposcopy clinics offer virtual consultations and dedicated helplines.

If you are having a face-to-face appointment, it is important to contact the colposcopy clinic if you suspect you have symptoms of coronavirus, you have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus, or you are shielding.

Read about what happens at a colposcopy appointment >

What should I do before colposcopy?

Colposcopy is usually done in a hospital. The appointment takes between 15 and 30 minutes. You can go home soon after the appointment. 

Before your appointment, you can eat and drink as normal. It is common to have some light bleeding (spotting) after colposcopy, so you may want to bring a sanitary pad or panty liner with you.

Contact the hospital if:

  • you think you may get your period at the same time as your appointment – you will probably still be able to have colposcopy, but they may ask you to go another day
  • you are pregnant – colposcopy is safe during pregnancy, but any biopsies or treatment may happen a few months after you give birth.

Colpscopy FAQs

The experts who do your colposcopy examination and any treatment are called colposcopists. They sometimes go by a different title, like nurse colposcopist or colposcopy nurse specialist.

Every colposcopist and nurse colposcopist has the same training. They sometimes go by different titles because of their background:

  • A colposcopist – Some colposcopists have completed medical training and gone on to do colposcopy training. They may be any grade of hospital doctor, from a junior doctor to a consultant, or a GP with a specialist interest in colposcopy. 
  • A nurse colposcopist or colposcopy nurse specialist – Some colposcopists are registered nurses who have completed nursing training and gone on to do colposcopy training. 

You may also meet a nurse (sometimes called a colposcopy nurse), who assists during your appointment. They do not do the examination or treatment.

Not everyone invited to colposcopy:

  • needs treatment
  • has it at their first appointment – it may be done at a future appointment.

If you do need treatment, your colposcopist will tell you whether it will happen at your first appointment or whether you will be invited back. 

Read more about what happens at a colposcopy appointment >

The main purpose of colposcopy is just to take a closer look at your cervix and, like at cervical screening, you are in control at all times. You wouldn’t have been invited to colposcopy unless healthcare professionals thought it was needed. 

If you are worried about colposcopy or have any questions, speak with your GP, the hospital where you have been referred, or to us. We are always here, over the phone or online, to help.

Get support >

You may have found out you are pregnant between having cervical screening and getting your results. If this happens and you have been invited to colposcopy, it's best to speak with your GP. They will usually recommend you still go to colposcopy so an expert (called a colposcopist) can have a closer look at your cervix and do more tests if needed. 

Colposcopy will not put your pregnancy at risk. If you are invited to colposcopy, tell your colposcopist you are pregnant, just in case they don’t know.

Different hospitals and colposcopists may recommend different things to do or not do before your appointment. If you are unsure, it's best to speak with the hospital where your appointment is.

If your colposcopy appointment is still happening, your doctor will have made that decision with your health and any risk in mind. If you are worried about going to the hospital, it is best to ring their number and ask what satefy measures they have in place. They will be able to give you advice and support based on your individual situation.

Read about what happens at a colposcopy appointment >

How we can help

We know you may feel worried about colposcopy or might be unsure about whether you need to do anything before your appointment. There are lots of places to get support but, if you have a specific question about your colposcopy appointment, you should ring the hospital where your appointment is happening. They can talk you through everything you need to know. 

Read about what happens at colposcopy > 

If you have general questions about colposcopy or just want to talk, we are here for you. Call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000 to speak with our trained volunteers.

Check our Helpline opening hours > 

If you have a general medical question about colposcopy or cell changes, you can get an answer from our panel of experts. Submit your question confidentially to our panel of experts and get a tailored reply. 

Use our Ask the Expert service > 

Sometimes it can help to connect with others who are going through or have gone through the same experience. If you think this might help, join our Forum – you can write a post or just read what others are talking about.

Join our online Forum >

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. 

References

  • NHS England and Public Health England (2020). NHS Cervical Screening Programme – Colposcopy: Initial guidance during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
  • Public Health England. Cervical screening: primary HPV screening implementation (2019). 
  • The British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (2019). For women – Frequently asked questions.
  • Polman, N. J., et al (2019). HPV-based cervical screening: Rationale, expectations and future perspectives of the new Dutch screening programme. Preventative Medicine.
  • Koliopoulos, G., et al (2017). Cytology versus HPV testing for cervical cancer screening in the general population. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 8.
  • Saseni, P., et al (2009). Effectiveness of cervical screening with age: population based case-control study of prospectively recorded data. British Medical Journal. 

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 >

What happens at colposcopy? >

Find out what to expect at a colposcopy appointment.

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Date last updated: 
19 May 2020
Date due for review: 
23 May 2022
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