Colposcopy FAQs

What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a simple visual examination of the cervix (the neck of the womb) with a bright light and a magnification tool called a colposcope. It is a painless and effective way of checking the cervix.

Why do I need this examination?

You have been asked to come from a further examination because your cervical smear test was abnormal. This is not unusual, as about one in ten tests is abnormal.

What does an abnormal smear result mean?

This usually means that some changes have been found on the cervix. These early changes act as early warning signals that cervical cancer may develop in the future. It is very rare that these changes are cancer.

What treatment is given after an abnormal result?

Some abnormal changes will return to normal by themselves. Others need simple outpatient treatment that is 95% effective.

How should I prepare for my examination?

If you are having a period it is still possible to have the examination. You should bring a sanitary towel in case of any slight discharge afterwards. We advise you to wear separates (e.g. a skirt and top or trousers and a top) so that you do not have to fully undress. You can have this examination if you are pregnant without any harm to your baby, or your ability to become pregnant again. If you wish to see a female doctor or nurse, please phone 0207 288 5118 in advance of your appointment.

Where do I go for my appointment?

You will have your appointment at the Colposcopy Clinic, which is in the Women’s Health clinic, known as 4C. You will either be seen by a doctor or a specialist nurse.

What will my examination be like?

The whole examination usually takes about 15-20 minutes and a chaperone will be present during your examination. You will be shown into an examination room and asked to remove your lower clothing, although a full skirt need not be removed. You will then be asked to lie on a special couch and the doctor or nurse will gently insert a speculum just as when you had your smear test taken. Then the cervix and vagina are examined with the colposcope, which is like a big magnifying glass. It does not touch you, or go inside you.

In order to see if the cervical cells are abnormal, the doctor will dab a harmless liquid dye on the cervix or vagina with cotton wool. If the cells are abnormal, there is usually a definite area that stains in a different way from the rest of the cervix. You may be able to see this on a video screen attached to the colposcope if you wish. Picture records of the cervix will be kept in your medical notes.

What is a biopsy?

If abnormal looking areas are seen, a tiny sample of the cervical cells (a biopsy) will be taken for further examination in the laboratory. It is usually done with a local anaesthetic. It may sting briefly, but is not usually painful.

What happens after my examination?

You can then get dressed and the doctor may be able to tell you what the problem is and what treatment, if any, you need. You can then resume normal activities straight away.

How will I be told the results?

The colposcopy examination shows the type and extent of the abnormal area, and the doctor or nurse can explain this to you right after your examination.

The results and information about what further follow up is needed will then be sent to you in the post. Copies of any results will also be sent to your GP. If you have had a biopsy at the examination, you may need to wait up to four weeks for the results.

Remember - only very rarely will the abnormal cells have developed into cancer.

We hope you found this information helpful. If you have any further questions about your treatment or appointment at the Whittington, please telephone our nurse specialist Dawn Thwaites on 0207 288 3138. Please leave a message with your name and contact details and your call will be returned.

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