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Before colposcopy

If this is your first time being invited to colposcopy, you may feel worried about why you’ve been invited, as well as feeling unsure about practical things, like what will happen at the appointment. 

We want you 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.

Most 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?

After cervical screening, you may be invited for colposcopy because:

  • You have an abnormal result. This means you may have cell changes (abnormal cells) on your cervix. These cell changes are not cancer.
  • You have high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • You have had 3 cervical screening tests in a row with inadequate results.
  • The nurse or doctor who did your cervical screening test thought your cervix didn’t look as healthy as it should. 

If you live in Northern Ireland

A cervical screening result may show cell changes that are not very extensive. These are usually called low-grade cell changes or low-grade dyskaryosis.

Read more about cervical screening results > 

In Northern Ireland, these cell changes are also tested for high-risk HPV as part of cervical screening. 

If you don’t have high-risk HPV, you do not need to go to colposcopy. This is because the cell changes are unlikely to develop into cervical cancer.

Read more about HPV > 

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. 

Things to think about before your appointment:

  • You can eat and drink as normal.
  • It is common to have some light bleeding (spotting) after colposcopy. 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.

More information about preparing for colposcopy

If you feel worried about colposcopy or are not sure if you need to do anything before your appointment, there are lots of places to get support. 

Read about what happens at colposcopy > 

If you have a specific question about your colposcopy appointment, ring the hospital you are booked in with. They can talk you through everything you need to know.

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 medical question, you can get an answer from our panel of experts.

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 >

Show references


How we research and write our information >

  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.



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What happens at colposcopy? >

Find out what to expect at a colposcopy appointment.

Date last updated: 
20 Mar 2020
Date due for review: 
23 May 2022

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