Why are you referred for a colposcopy and what is it?
You may be referred for colposcopy for a number of reasons, including if your smear report suggests pre-cancerous changes with individual cells. Pre-cancer (cervical dysplasia or cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia) is not cancer.
These abnormalities may return to normal on their own or may need treatment. However, further investigation is always necessary. Any woman who has been sexually active is at risk of developing cervical abnormalities.
The colposcopy itself is a microscopic examination of the cervix (the neck of the womb) and can also check the vagina and vulva (external opening of vagina). The examination usually lasts between 10-15 minutes.
What does the colposcopy procedure entail?
- The doctor or specialist nurse will take a thorough medical history from you.
- You will be asked to remove your lower half clothing and lie down with your legs resting in stirrups.
- Just like a usual smear examination, the doctor gently inserts a speculum into your vagina to look at the cervix. The cervix is examined with good lighting via the colposcope which acts like a magnifying glass.
- The doctor or specialist nurse may take a repeat smear, with a special brush, from the neck of the womb.
- After this procedure, the doctor dabs the cervix with solutions to highlight the area that is making your smear abnormal. A biopsy is usually taken (a tiny piece of tissue).
- This procedure is slightly uncomfortable and can feel like a mild period pain. You may have some blood-stained or dye-stained discharge for a few days following this procedure. You will need to protect your underwear with a panty-liner.
- The smear and/or biopsy are then sent to the laboratory for testing.
How can the abnormal cells be treated?
The report of the repeat smear, biopsy and colposcopy investigations confirm the diagnosis (the cause of your abnormal smears). Sometimes these results show that treatment is required to remove the abnormal cells. The most common treatment used today is called loop excision or loop diathermy. It is similar to laser treatment that was often used in the past but is usually quicker to perform.
You will be given an appointment for a check colposcopy eight months later to ensure that everything is back to normal. Please note that not all abnormal areas need treatment: some resolve themselves naturally.
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