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Colposcopy FAQs

On this page, we answer some common questions about colposcopy. 

Colposcopy appointments

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.

Read more about colposcopy >

At the moment, you will not be able to have anyone in the hospital with you during colposcopy. This is because of the safety measures in place to protect you and health workers from coronavirus.

If someone have driven you to hospital, you can ask them to wait in the car so they are there to give you support after the appointment. Remember, your healthcare team are there to support you too, and will do everything they can to make you feel safe and comfortable. 

If you want to talk through anything or understand your options, remember we are here to support you too.

Read about what happens at colposcopy >

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.

Read more about colposcopy >

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.

Read more about colposcopy >

A punch biopsy is when a small piece of cervical tissue is taken during colposcopy. The name is often shortened to biopsy. 

The biopsy is sent to a laboratory to test:

  • whether there are cell changes
  • what type of cell changes there are
  • how advanced any cell changes are.

Your colposcopist will usually take more than one punch biopsy, to make sure the results are as accurate as possible.

Everyone’s experience of a punch biopsy is different. Some people do not feel anything, while others find it uncomfortable. The area may feel tender or ache during and after the biopsy. 

Remember, you are in control during colposcopy, so let your colposcopist know if it hurts. They will be able to give you the right support.

Read more about what happens at colposcopy >

After your colposcopy examination, your colposcopist will try to give you as much information as they can. But they will usually need to get the results of a biopsy before you get your full results. 

Remember, most people who go to colposcopy do not have cervical cancer. If you have any questions or worries, there is time before and after your colposcopy examination to talk about these.

Read more about what happens at colposcopy > 

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.

Read about what happens at colposcopy >

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 about what happens at colposcopy >

After colposcopy

If you have a biopsy at colposcopy, you may have some side effects, including:

  • cramps, like period pains
  • some light bleeding 
  • changes to vaginal discharge. 

These side effects may last for a few days, but shouldn’t last very long or get worse. If any effects do get worse, tell your colposcopist or GP. 

Read more about colposcopy >

After colposcopy, it is important to listen to your body and take any time you need to rest. Remember, we all heal at different rates, so what feels right for someone else may not be right for you.

If you have had a biopsy, you may feel okay to do your usual exercise straight away. 

If you have had treatment, you may take a little longer to heal, but you can exercise as soon as you feel ready. Any side effects usually last for about 4 weeks, so you may want to avoid heavy exercise during that time. If you do exercise, any bleeding may get a little heavier after. 

If you have any worries or want to ask about a specific exercise, speak with your colposcopist.

Read about treatment for cell changes >

Sometimes, a biopsy or treatment you have at colposcopy can cause bleeding or changes to your vaginal discharge. If this happens, it is best to wait until this has stopped before you have vaginal penetrative sex. This includes:

  • vaginal sex – for example, being penetrated by a penis, dildo or other object
  • fingering (having fingers inside your vagina)
  • oral sex (having a tongue inside your vagina).

The general rule is don’t put anything in your vagina while you have any side effects. If you want to have anal sex or clitoral stimulation, this shouldn’t make any side effects worse. 

If you are worried or have specific questions, it is best to speak to your colposcopist. 

Read about what happens at colposcopy >

Colposcopy results

It may take 4 to 8 weeks to get colposcopy results. Your doctor (colposcopist) usually sends a letter with your results. If your results take longer than this, you can call the hospital or your colposcopist to check on them.

If your colposcopist thinks you may have cervical cancer, you may be offered a telephone call or be invited to the colposcopy clinic within 2 to 3 weeks to get your results.

Waiting for results can be a really anxious time, but remember we are here if you need any support.

Read more about getting colposcopy results >

Cervical screening does not diagnose cell changes. It is a snapshot of cervical cells that suggest whether you need further tests. 

Your colposcopy will usually look at a piece of your cervical tissue (taken by biopsy or treatment). It is a much more detailed look at your cervix. This means your colposcopy result may be different to your cervical screening result. Not everyone referred to colposcopy after cervical screening:

  • has cell changes
  • has the type or grade of cell changes their cervical screening result suggested. 

Read more about colposcopy results >

No. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and cervical glandular intraepithelial neoplasia (CGIN) means you have cell changes (abnormal cells) on your cervix. These changes are not cancer but, without monitoring or treatment, they may develop into cervical cancer.

Read more about CIN and CGIN > 

If and when you have a follow-up appointment after colposcopy depends on:

  • your colposcopy results
  • whether you had treatment (at your first appointment or a further appointment).

Your colposcopist, or the hospital you had colposcopy at, should be able to tell you about any follow-up appointments.

If your colposcopy results show no cell changes (abnormal cells)

If your colposcopy results show no cell changes, you do not need any further appointments. You will be invited back for cervical screening (a smear test) in 3 or 5 years, depending on your age.

If your colposcopy results show low-grade cell changes 

If your colposcopy results show low-grade cell changes (also called CIN1), there are a few different options:

  • Your colposcopist may look at your individual situation and recommend you do not need treatment. This is because it is unlikely that CIN1 will develop into cervical cancer – often, the cells go back to normal on their own. This is called conservative management.
  • Your colposcopist may look at your individual situation and recommend you do have treatment.

If you have CIN2, your colposcopist may also look at all these options. If you have any questions or concerns, speak with them so they can explain their recommendation.

Read more about CIN and CGIN >

If your colposcopy results show you need treatment

If your colposcopy results show you need treatment, you will usually have a further appointment within 4 to 6 weeks.

Read more about colposcopy results > 

If you had treatment, you will usually have a follow-up appointment about 6 months after. 

Read more about follow-up after treatment for cell changes (abnormal cells) > 

Colposcopy and coronavirus

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 you should do. They will be able to give you advice and support based on your individual situation.

We can also give you support and talk through your options. You can give us a call on 0808 802 8000.

Get support >

Your doctor at the hospital will be able to answer any questions about your colposcopy appointment best, but we hope the explanation below also helps.

In these unusual circumstances, your doctor may decide it is safer to postpone your colposcopy appointment. It is important that you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus and, at the moment, the risk of you going to the hospital and potentially coming into contact with coronavirus may be greater than the risk of your appointment being postponed. 

It may help to remember that having HPV and cell changes are not cervical cancer. About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years and many low grade cell changes go back to normal without treatment. It’s also good to remember that cervical cancer itself is rare. We know you may still be worried, so if you want to talk any of this through our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

Get support >

If you are currently being monitored or have had treatment for cell changes, you may be concerned if your follow up appointments temporarily stop. In these unusual circumstances, your doctor may decide it is safer for appointments to be postponed to make sure you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus. If this happens, you do not need to do anything except follow the government advice.

It may help to remember that having HPV or cell changes in the past does not mean you will still have them. About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years and many cell changes go back to normal without treatment. If you have had treatment, it is usually very successful at removing cell changes. It’s also good to remember that cervical cancer itself develops very slowly and is rare, so most people will not develop it at all. 

We know this might not answer all of your concerns, so if you want to talk any of this through our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

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 >

Cell changes >

Read about what cell changes are and how they are monitored or treated.

More questions?

If you have questions or concerns about cervical screening, get a confidential response from a medical professional.

Ask the Expert
Date last updated: 
13 May 2020
Date due for review: 
27 May 2022

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