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On this page, we answer some common questions about colposcopy.
Your colposcopy examination, and any treatment given to you during the appointment, is done by a ‘colposcopist’. They sometimes have different titles because of their background, but they have all done the same colposcopy training:
You may also meet a nurse (sometimes called a colposcopy nurse). They assist during your colposcopy appointment. They don’t do the examination or treatment.
You may want to bring a friend, partner or relative to make you feel comfortable. Contact the hospital or clinic when you get your appointment and they will let you know if this is possible.
If you want to talk through anything or understand your options, we’re here to support you too.
It’s advised that you still go to colposcopy if you’re pregnant. If you’re invited to colposcopy, it’s best to tell your colposcopist you’re pregnant, just in case they don’t know.
You might be told at colposcopy that you have changed cells. Whether they need to be monitored or treated will depend on how many weeks pregnant you are and how much your cells have changed.
Some hospitals and clinics may advise not to have penetrative vaginal sex, or use vaginal medications, creams, lubricants, tampons or menstrual cups for 48 hours before your appointment. If you’re unsure about what you can or can’t do before colposcopy, it’s best to contact the hospital or clinic.
A punch biopsy is when a sample of cervical tissue is taken during colposcopy. It’s often just called a ‘biopsy’. The sample is smaller than a grain of rice. It’s sent to a laboratory to see:
Your colposcopist will usually take more than one biopsy. This is to make sure the results are as accurate as possible. Some people may find a biopsy 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). You may also be able to have a biopsy when you’re 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.
During colposcopy, your colposcopist will try to give you as much information as they can. But usually, the results of a biopsy are needed before you can get your full results.
Most people who go to colposcopy don’t have cervical cancer. If you have any questions or worries, there is time before and after your examination to talk these through with your colposcopist.
We’re also here for you, no matter how you’re feeling. You can call our free Helpline on 0808 802 800 — take this link to see our opening hours.
It’s important to remember that you wouldn’t have been invited to colposcopy unless healthcare professionals thought it was needed. But it’s entirely your choice to attend your appointment, just like cervical screening.
We understand that you might be worried about colposcopy. It may be helpful to remember that you’re in control at all times during your appointment. We also have some tips that, although written for cervical screening, could be helpful for colposcopy too.
If you’re worried or have any questions, you can speak with your GP or the hospital or clinic you’ve been referred to. You can also talk to us — we’re here for you, both over the phone and online.
Not everyone invited to colposcopy will need treatment. If you do, it might be possible for it be done on the same day as your first colposcopy. You may be invited for treatment at another appointment on a different day. This decision will be made by you and your colposcopist. Any treatment 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 first colposcopy, it’s okay to ask for time to think and to ask for the treatment to be given at another appointment.
Afterwards, you may have:
These effects are common after colposcopy. 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.
After treatment to remove cell changes, it is common to have:
These effects will stop for most people after 4 weeks. In 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:
After colposcopy, it’s important to listen to your body and take any time you need to rest. What feels right for someone else may not be right for you.
If you’ve had a biopsy, you may feel okay to do your usual exercise straight away.
If you’ve had treatment, you may take a little longer to heal. Side effects of some treatments can last for about 4–6 weeks. There might be some exercises you need to avoid during that time. Your colposcopist will be able to talk to you about this. You can also find out more at the link below.
Sometimes, a biopsy or treatment at colposcopy can cause bleeding or changes to your vaginal discharge. It’s best to wait until this has stopped before you put anything into your vagina. This means avoiding:
It’s okay to have anal sex or clitoral stimulation because you aren’t putting anything into your vagina.
Sometimes, your colposcopist will tell you what they have found straight away during your appointment. You might have a biopsy, which is looked at in a laboratory. This means it may take around 4–8 weeks to get colposcopy results. You’ll get them in the post. If you haven’t had your results within this time, it’s best to call the hospital or clinic where you had your appointment.
Rarely, colposcopy results may show cervical cancer. If this happens, you should be referred to a team of specialists within two weeks.
Waiting for results can be a really anxious time. We’re here if you’d like to talk. You can speak to our trained Helpline volunteers on 0808 802 800. We also have a welcoming community on our online Forum, where you can get and give support.
Cervical screening looks to see if there are changed cells. But it doesn’t tell us everything about those cells. Colposcopy is a more detailed look at your cervix and shows if changed cells need to be monitored or treated. This means your colposcopy result may be different to your cervical screening result.
Not everyone who goes to colposcopy after cervical screening has:
No, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or cervical glandular intraepithelial neoplasia (CGIN) means you have cell changes (abnormal cells) in your cervix. But these changes are not cancer. However, it’s important to understand that they may turn into cervical cancer if they’re not monitored or treated.
Not everyone who goes to colposcopy will have more than one appointment. You could be invited to a second or follow-up appointment if:
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]