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A colposcopy is a procedure used to examine your cervix and check for abnormal cells. 

Nurse prepares patient for her colposcopy procedure
A colposcopy is a medical procedure where the cells of your cervix (the opening to your womb) and vagina are examined in detail under a microscope. If your doctor suspects you have abnormal cells, they will take a sample of cells called a biopsy during the procedure.

Call 0141 300 5009 or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss a private colposcopy with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.

This page explains what a colposcopy is, why you may need to have one, and what to expect before, during, and after the procedure.

In order to have a colposcopy, you need a consultation with a specialist first. During this consultation, your specialist will review your symptoms and determine whether a colposcopy is the right procedure for you. If they confirm you need a colposcopy, your healthcare team will help you book the procedure for a later date.

You must be aged over 18 and book your own appointment to use this service. If you would like to book an appointment for anyone under the age of 18, please call us on 0141 300 5009 .

You may need to have a colposcopy if your last cervical smear test showed abnormal cells, if several smear tests have not given a clear result, or if your cervix looked abnormal during a previous examination. It may also be performed if you have symptoms of cervical cancer.

Abnormal cells in your cervix may be caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). If left untreated these abnormal cells may lead to cervical cancer. If you have abnormal cells on your cervix, they will be removed to prevent them from becoming cancerous or pre-cancerous.

A colposcopy can also be used to investigate problems like unexplained vaginal bleeding, an infection with HPV that hasn't gone away, or inflammation of your cervix. It may be used to diagnose conditions such as genital warts, vulval, vaginal, or cervical cancer.

At your first consultation at Circle Health Group, you will be seen by a consultant gynaecologist, a doctor specialising in conditions affecting the female reproductive system.

Your consultant will ask you about your general health and medical history and may review any previous tests or scans.

They will explain the procedure to you and answer any questions or address any concerns you may have.

Many women feel understandably anxious about having a colposcopy. Being well-informed and clear about what to expect during the procedure will help put your mind at rest and make you feel as comfortable as possible. You can bring a friend or family member to your colposcopy appointment if it helps you feel more at ease.

Why is this first consultation so important?

At Circle Health Group, your first appointment is very important as it's where we get to know you, discuss your expectations for treatment, and encourage you to ask any questions you may have.

Before your colposcopy, there are a few things you need to do to make sure the procedure goes as smoothly as possible.

Your consultant will explain what you need to do before the procedure. Feel free to ask any questions you have about preparing for your colposcopy.

Contact the hospital before your appointment if:

  • You expect to have your period on the day of your colposcopy
  • You are pregnant or think you may be pregnant
  • You would like a female consultant to carry out the procedure or would like a chaperone present
  • You are taking blood thinning medication like aspirin or warfarin

Before your colposcopy:

  • Don't have sex, use tampons or any vaginal creams or lubricants for a day or two before your colposcopy
  • If you like, you can take an over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen before your colposcopy to help minimise discomfort during the procedure
  • Take a sanitary pad or panty liner with you to the procedure. It's common to have some discharge or light bleeding after a colposcopy

Having a colposcopy is a lot like having a cervical smear test. The main difference is that during a colposcopy, your consultant examines the cells of your cervix using a colposcope, a type of microscope with a light attached. The colposcope does not go inside your vagina. Your cervix may be visible on a screen during the procedure.

Before your colposcopy, your consultant will explain the procedure to you including what will happen during the procedure, what to expect afterwards, and any possible risks and complications.

You will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist down. You will be asked to lie down, and a sheet will be placed over your lower half. You will need to lie on your back with your legs drawn up and your knees apart. Your legs will be placed on padded supports. Your consultant will assist you in getting into the right position.

First, your consultant will insert a smooth, tube-shaped instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum helps keep your vagina open and is the same instrument that is used during a cervical smear test. The speculum may feel slightly uncomfortable but should not be painful.

Next, your consultant will examine your vagina and cervix using the colposcope.

Your consultant will dab different liquids onto your cervix to allow them to see any abnormal cells more clearly. You may feel a mild stinging or tingling as these liquids are used.

Will I need a cervical biopsy?

If your consultant finds anything unusual, they may take a sample of cells, called a biopsy, from your cervix to send to the laboratory for analysis.

You may feel a sharp pinching pain, discomfort, or cramps while the biopsy is being taken. Tell your consultant if you feel any pain during the procedure and they will try and make it more comfortable for you.

A colposcopy normally takes around twenty minutes.

Cone biopsy

If you need to have a larger piece of tissue removed from your cervix, your consultant may want to take a cone-shaped sample of tissue called a cone biopsy. You will need to make a follow-up appointment to have a cone biopsy. The procedure is carried out under general anaesthetic, and you will need to spend one night in hospital.

If your consultant discovers abnormal cells during your colposcopy, they may perform a procedure to remove them from your cervix. This may be done at the same time as your colposcopy, or you may need to come back for another appointment.

Abnormal cells can be removed in several ways:

Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ)

During LLETZ your cervix is injected with a local anaesthetic to prevent you from feeling any pain. If you feel any pain or discomfort during the procedure you may need more local anaesthetic so let your consultant know.

During the procedure, a heated loop of wire is used to remove a small piece of tissue (about the size of a fingernail).

Let your consultant know if you have an intrauterine device (IUD) such as a copper or Mirena coil before having this procedure. Sometimes the threads that hang outside your cervix from the IUD may be cut during LLETZ, though your consultant will try to avoid this. If the threads are cut, don't worry, your IUD can still be removed when needed. You will be able to go home straight away after your LLETZ.

Laser treatment and cryocautery

During laser treatment, a laser is used to destroy abnormal cells. The procedure is performed under local anaesthetic and is done as an outpatient meaning you can go home the same day. After laser treatment, healthy cells grow back to replace the abnormal cells.

Cryocautery is a procedure where the cervix is temporarily frozen with a metal probe for around two to three minutes. It is often used to treat bleeding after sex or excessive vaginal discharge but may be used to treat abnormal cervical cells.

A colposcopy is a straightforward procedure with minimal risk of complications. Your consultant will discuss all the possible risks and complications with you before your colposcopy to allow you to make an informed decision.

We want you to be as well-informed and comfortable as possible during your procedure so please ask your consultant any questions you may have. You are less likely to feel anxious about having your colposcopy if you know what to expect before, during, and after the procedure, and have discussed any worries or concerns with your consultant beforehand.

Possible risks and complications of colposcopy include:

  • Vaginal infection - signs include fever, severe abdominal pain, strong-smelling discharge, and bleeding that lasts more than seven days
  • Heavy bleeding

If you experience any complications during or after your colposcopy, the medical team will be on hand to give you whatever treatment you need. If you experience any of the above symptoms after you have returned home, contact your doctor immediately.

You can usually go home as soon as your colposcopy is finished.

After your colposcopy, you may have some mild pain, similar to period pain for a few days. Taking over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. Your vagina and vulva may feel sore for a couple of days.

It's common to have some discharge and light bleeding from your vagina after your colposcopy. This normally stops within three to five days. It is best not to have sex, use tampons or vaginal creams, medications, or lubricants until the bleeding has stopped.

After your colposcopy, you can probably resume your normal activities like working or driving the next day. Everyone's recovery is different, and you may need to rest for a few days after your procedure. Listen to your body and do what is best for you.

Recovering from a biopsy or LLETZ

If you had a biopsy or LLETZ at the same time as your colposcopy, you may experience vaginal bleeding for up to four weeks.

While you have bleeding, discharge, or pain:

  • Use sanitary pads instead of tampons or menstrual cups
  • Don't have sex or put anything inside your vagina. Your consultant will tell you when it is safe for you to have sex again- this may be up to four weeks after your LLETZ
  • Avoid vigorous exercise or strenuous activity that could make pain and bleeding worse

If your colposcopy was normal, your consultant can usually tell you this straight away. If you had a cervical biopsy, it normally takes around four weeks to get your results.

Normal result

No abnormal cells. About four out of ten women who undergo a colposcopy have a normal result. If your result is normal, you will be invited for a cervical smear test in three to five years depending on your age

Abnormal result

Abnormal cells. Around six out of ten women having a colposcopy have an abnormal result. The abnormal cells are not cancerous but could develop into cancer cells if left untreated.

There are four types of abnormal cells:

  • Cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN 1) (low risk) - no treatment necessary. The abnormal cells usually go away on their own as your body fights the HPV infection. You will normally be invited for a cervical smear or colposcopy in a year to check the HPV infection has cleared
  • Cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN 2) (medium risk) - you may be offered treatment to remove the abnormal cells or advised to have a follow-up colposcopy
  • Cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN 3) (high risk) - will be offered treatment to remove the abnormal cells
  • Cervical glandular intra-epithelial neoplasia (CGIN) (high risk) - you will be offered treatment to remove the abnormal cells

Cervical cancer - Rarely, your colposcopy will show a diagnosis of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer detected through a colposcopy is normally in the early stages and responds better to treatment than cancer in the later stages. If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, you will be referred to a team of specialists for treatment

We answer some of your most commonly asked questions about colposcopy

Do I need a colposcopy if I have human papilloma virus (HPV)?

More than 90% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infections are common and usually clear up on their own, but in some cases, they can lead to abnormal cells that may develop into cancer cells. If you have abnormal cells caused by HPV on your cervical smear test, you will need to have a colposcopy.

How long does a colposcopy take?

A colposcopy normally takes between ten and twenty minutes.

How soon after a colposcopy can you get pregnant?

You can get pregnant as soon as you start having sex after your colposcopy. Having a colposcopy does not affect your fertility or your chance of getting pregnant.

Does a colposcopy hurt?

You may feel some mild discomfort during your colposcopy, but the procedure shouldn't hurt. If you feel pain during your colposcopy, let your consultant know.

How long after a colposcopy can you have sex?

You may have some discharge and light bleeding for a few days after your colposcopy. Your vagina and vulva may also be sore after the procedure. You can have sex as soon as you feel ready after the bleeding and discharge have stopped. If you had a biopsy or LLETZ procedure, talk to your consultant about when it is safe for you to have sex.

Can you have a colposcopy when you are on your period?

It's possible to have a colposcopy when you are having your period, but it may be harder for your consultant to see your cervical cells clearly especially if your period is heavy. If your period is due when you are scheduled to have a colposcopy, contact the hospital to find out whether you need to reschedule.

Can you have a colposcopy if you are pregnant?

You can have a colposcopy while you are pregnant, but your consultant may want to avoid taking a biopsy. If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant and are scheduled to have a colposcopy, contact your consultant for advice.

At Circle Health Group we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group you can expect the highest standards of care including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations to fit your routine
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and Consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, Consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Support by the same compassionate clinical team from beginning to end
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to spread the cost of your care

If you would like to learn more about this procedure, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in December 2022. Next review due December 2025.

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