A colposcopy is a simple procedure to look at the cervix, the lower part of the womb at the top of the vagina. It is often done if cervical screening finds abnormal cells in your cervix, or if you have a problem with your cervix.
These cells aren’t harmful and often go away on their own, but sometimes there is a risk they could eventually turn into cervical cancer if not treated. A colposcopy can confirm whether cells in your cervix are abnormal and determine whether you need treatment to remove them.
When a colposcopy may be needed
You may be referred for a colposcopy within a few weeks of cervical screening if:
- some of the cells in your screening sample are abnormal
- the nurse or doctor who carried out the screening test thought your cervix did not look as healthy as it should
- it was not possible to give you a clear result after several screening tests
A colposcopy can also be used to find out the cause of problems such as unusual vaginal bleeding (for example, bleeding after sex).
Try not to worry if you’ve been referred for a colposcopy. It’s very unlikely you have cancer and any abnormal cells will not get worse while you’re waiting for your appointment.
What happens at your appointment
A doctor or nurse will inspect your cervix with a magnifying light (colposcope), which views the cervix from a short distance. A fluid is dabbed onto the cervix, which makes precancerous changes show up more clearly. In many cases, a biopsy may be taken in order to help obtain an accurate diagnosis. A photograph if the cervix may also be taken for your health records.
The colposcopy will help to determine the degree of pre-cancerous change on your cervix: borderline, mild, moderate and severe. Borderline and mild abnormalities usually do not require treatment, but may require a biopsy. Moderate and severe abnormalities will require treatment which will be fully discussed with you.
Sometimes, women find that they have been referred for colposcopy when they are pregnant, but there is no evidence that the procedure is harmful in pregnancy.
There are 17 clinics running every fortnight during the day. These are run by 4 consultants and 1 nurse colposcopist. There is also a smear clinic running once a fortnight. Nurses are always available to give advice or to discuss any concerns about your examination and/or treatment. We will offer you treatment at your first visit, if appropriate.
Female colposcopists are available, so please let us know if you would prefer to be examined by a female member of staff.