Colposcopy is a detailed examination of the cervix (neck of the womb) using a special microscope called a colposcope. This allows a magnified view of the cervix, and also the vagina and vulva. It is usually a short procedure which is performed in the outpatient setting.

Why is a colposcopy performed?

Colposcopy is most commonly performed to examine the cervix following an abnormal smear. It is also performed when your doctor has concerns about the appearance of the cervix, or you have abnormal symptoms such as bleeding after intercourse or bleeding between periods.

What happens during a colposcopy procedure?

Firstly you will have a consultation and a detailed history will be taken. The procedure will be explained to you and any questions you may have answered.

Colposcopy is similar to having a smear test performed, in that a speculum is used to visualise the cervix. The whole procedure takes about 5 minutes. A very dilute solution of acetic acid is applied to the cervix to show up abnormal areas on the cervix. The cervix and vagina are inspected with the colposcope. A biopsy may be taken of any abnormal areas for the laboratory to test. The colposcopy doesn’t normally hurt but may feel uncomfortable. You will have a nurse looking after you throughout the procedure.

What will the examination show?

The examination will show if there are abnormal cells present, and to what extent. In around 4 out of 10 cases, the results will be normal. Where abnormal cells are found, these are graded according to their severity. Mild abnormal cell changes (known as CIN 1) often return to normal without treatment. Moderate (CIN 2) or severe (CIN 3) abnormal cell changes don’t indicate cancer, but there’s a higher risk they may become cancerous if treatment isn’t carried out.

What does treatment involve?

The success rate of colposcopy treatment is about 90%.

Treatment involves removing the area of abnormal cells on the cervix using a heated wire loop, called a loop cone biopsy, or LLETZ (large loop excision of the transformation zone). This is usually performed under a local anaesthetic in the clinic and takes a matter of minutes.

Recovering from a colposcopy

You may experience a little discharge and bleeding following a colposcopy. If you’ve had treatment, bleeding may last up to 4 weeks. You should avoid using tampons, intercourse or swimming for about a month following treatment. You’ll have regular follow-up screening to check the abnormal cells have all gone.