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Colposcopy is an examination to take a closer look at your cervix. It checks to see if there are cell changes and is done by a specially trained nurse or doctor called a ‘colposcopist’.
Colposcopy normally happens in a hospital or local clinic. A colposcopy appointment usually takes 10–20 minutes. It might be longer depending on what happens during your appointment.
Many cell changes go away on their own, but some may turn into cervical cancer. Colposcopy helps find out whether changed cells need to be removed to stop cervical cancer from happening.
At colposcopy, the colposcopist looks at your cervix using a special microscope on a stand with a light. This is a ‘colposcope’. It stays outside your body.
Your colposcopist will place a speculum into your vagina to see your cervix clearly — just like at cervical screening (previously called a ‘smear test’). They will then put some liquids onto your cervix. These liquids help to show areas where cells might have changed.
Your colposcopist may do a tissue test called a ‘biopsy’. This is where a sample of tissue is taken from your cervix. The sample is smaller than a grain of rice. It is then looked at in a laboratory to see if there are cell changes.
Some people find a biopsy uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. You're in control and if it hurts, you can ask your colposcopist to stop. It’s possible to have the area numbed before a biopsy. If this would make you feel more comfortable, contact your hospital or clinic before your appointment.
Sometimes, cell changes can be seen during your appointment. You might be offered treatment to remove the changed cells and for it to happen on the same day as your colposcopy. You may be invited for another appointment on a different day. This decision will be made by you and your colposcopist. Any treatment offered will be explained to you before and only done if you agree to have it.
If treatment is offered to you on the same day as your colposcopy, it’s okay to ask for time to think and to ask for it to happen at another appointment.
You’re usually invited for colposcopy after cervical screening for one of these reasons:
You may also be referred for colposcopy because:
You could be going to a second or follow-up colposcopy appointment if:
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.
If you have a specific question about your colposcopy appointment, it’s best to ring the hospital or clinic where your appointment is happening. They can talk you through everything you need to know. There will also be time during your appointment for you to ask questions.
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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]