Colposcopy

What is Colposcopy?

Colposcopy is a simple outpatient clinic procedure to examine the cervix. As an experience it is very similar to having a smear test performed. During colposcopy, the cervix is visualised using a speculum and is examined under magnification and bright light to look for signs of any abnormality.

Two dyes are applied to the cervix (acetic acid and iodine) which highlight the abnormality if present. From the colposcopy appearance, the abnormalities can also be graded as low grade (CIN1) and high grade changes (CIN2-3).

Colposcopy examination is carried out by a specialist gynaecologist who is accredited by the British Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (BSCCP). A nurse will also be present and you will be given an option to see your cervix on the screen.

Why is a colposcopy performed?

A colposcopy is often performed following an abnormal smear. It allows the specialist to assess the cervix and grade any abnormalities if present.

Sometimes, a colposcopy is performed for assessment of certain symptoms such as bleeding after sex OR persistent vaginal discharge OR if your GP is concerned about the appearance of your cervix.

Does it hurt?

Colposcopy as an experience is very similar to having a smear test. There may be some discomfort involved with insertion of speculum, but there is no sharp pain. If a biopsy is needed, it will be carried out after application of local anaesthetic.

What happens in a colposcopy appointment?

During the consultation, a detailed medical history will be obtained. You will also have an opportunity to ask the specialist any questions that you may have.

A nurse is always present during the colposcopy examination and will assist you. A speculum examination is performed to visualise the cervix and a colposcope is used to assess it under high magnification. As explained above, two solutions are used to highlight abnormal areas if any. A biopsy may be obtained from these areas after application of local anaesthesia.

The examination usually takes 3-5 minutes and you will be able to go home and back to work straight away.

What will the colposcopy show?

The examination may show a normal cervix or low grade or high grade changes. Your specialist will explain the findings. Depending on your clinical circumstances, you may or may not need treatment.

What does the treatment involve?

The commonest form of treatment is LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of Transformation Zone). It is also known as LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure, an American term). This is commonly carried out as an outpatient clinic procedure under local anaesthesia. After numbing the cervix with local anaesthetic, a wire loop is used to remove the abnormal cells. It is a quick and easy procedure and there is some discomfort, but no sharp pain.

Please refer to this special page on treatment for further information.

When will I get the results?

Your specialist will discuss the colposcopy findings with you. If any tests are undertaken (such as smear test, biopsy or HPV-DNA test), these results will be sent to you within 7-10 days.