Colposcopy

A colposcopy is a routine procedure for looking at the cervix (the lower part of the womb at the top of the vagina).

It is used if routine cervical screening shows there are abnormal cells in the cervix. These cells are not normally harmful and often go away on their own but sometimes there is a risk they can turn into cancer cells if left untreated so for peace of mind it is better to get them investigated.

You may be referred for a colposcopy if:

  • You’ve had a smear tests which shows some abnormal cells
  • The nurse or doctor who did the smear test had concerns about the health of your cervix
  • You’ve had several inconclusive smear tests
  • You are experiencing unexplained vaginal bleeding (after sexual intercourse, for example)

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A colposcopy is a safe procedure causing minimal discomfort. Talk to a specialist doctor about your options.

  • SEEK HELP – Seek help from a gynaecologist that provides a calm, unhurried environment.
  • DIAGNOSIS – Prompt diagnosis will help undercover what might be causing your symptoms.
  • TREATMENT – Knowing your treatment options allows you to make informed decisions about your health.
  • DON’T DELAY – Prompt treatment of gynaecology conditions often results in a greater chance of success.

What happens during the procedure?

We understand that you are likely to be feeling a mix of emotions when you come for your appointment – anxiety, embarrassment, fear. We will do our best to reassure you and help you to relax. We will explain the procedure to you and we will be very happy to answer any questions you may have and try to allay your concerns. We will have respect for your dignity and sensitivities throughout.

The procedure normally takes 15-20 minutes. You will be asked to lie in an examination chair, which has padded support for your legs. Your gynaecologist will insert a speculum into your vagina and then examine your cervix using a microscope, which has a light on it. We will use a liquid to highlight any abnormal areas on your cervix. A small sample of tissue – called a biopsy – may be taken for examination in a laboratory. This can feel a bit uncomfortable.

If it is apparent that there are abnormal cells in your cervix we can treat the cells immediately. If we need to wait for the results of the biopsy we may need to invite you back for treatment.

Results

Screening results are not available immediately – most results take 1-2 weeks. However if we need to take a biopsy, there may be a wait of four to eight weeks for the results.

If you have an abnormal cervical smear result, depending on the grade of the smear you may need surveillance or treatment.

Treatment

It is usually possible to treat abnormal cells during the colposcopy, and the smear or biopsy result will dictate if treatment is required or not. If it is, you will be offered:

  • Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ) which involves using a heated wire loop to remove the abnormal cells. This is normally carried out under local anaesthetic and you will be able to go home the same day.

Screening

As well as diagnosing and treating problems, an important part of our work as gynaecologist is prevention.

Undertaking regular screening helps detect potentially serious conditions, like cancer, early on so that women have the best chance of successful treatment.

A condition that remains undiagnosed can continue to develop. The longer this goes on, the greater the risk to your health and the more complicated any treatment is likely to be.

During cervical screening, for example, we look for abnormal cells in the cervix that have the potential to become cancerous.

A coloposcopy allows us not only to identify these cells, but to remove them, there and then in many cases. It is a straightforward procedure that can stop cancerous cells from developing.

Your gynaecologist will always check for signs and symptoms of more serious health conditions during routine appointments and examinations.

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Sometimes, it is only during a routine examination that women first discover that anything is wrong. You never know, that appointment that seems a bit of a hassle or an embarrassment right now might just turn out to be a life-saver.

In the UK, women are routinely offered cervical screening, 3 yearly, between the ages of 25 and 50 and thereafter 5 yearly until the age of 65.

If you are invited to attend a screening programme it is important that you go.

Screening is there to give you peace of mind.

Most of the time the tests come back clear but on the rare occasions that they don’t, you and your gynaecologist will be able to discuss your condition and the range of treatment options available to you.

FAQs

Try not to worry if you are referred for a colposcopy. It is very unlikely that you have cancer. Your gynaecologist is just checking whether any cells in your cervix are abnormal and if you need treatment to remove them. If there is a moderate to high risk of the cells becoming cancerous if they are left untreated, there are a number of simple and effective treatments that can be used to remove them making absolutely sure that any abnormal cells are investigated and treated early before they have any opportunity to develop into cancerous cells.

No, any abnormal cells will not get worse while you are waiting for the procedure. And, with our clinic, we can offer you an appointment quickly so you don’t have the stress of waiting.

A colposcopy does not hurt although it can feel a bit uncomfortable, particularly if we need to take a biopsy, which is a small sample of tissue cells. Your gynaecologist will check with you throughout the procedure how you are feeling. If you are experiencing uncomfortable at any point, please say so.