A colposcopy is a simple procedure used to look at the cervix, which is the lower part of the womb at the top of the vagina. It’s often done in cases where cervical screening reveals abnormal cells in your cervix. These cells aren’t harmful and often go away on their own, but sometimes there’s a risk they could eventually turn into cervical cancer if not treated.

A colposcopy can confirm whether cells in your cervix are abnormal and determine whether you need treatment to remove them.

You may be referred for a colposcopy within a few weeks of cervical screening if some of the cells in your screening sample are abnormal, the nurse or doctor who carried out the screening test thought your cervix didn’t look as healthy as it should, or you weren’t given a clear result after several screening tests. A colposcopy can also be used to find out the cause of problems such as unusual vaginal bleeding.
A colposcopy takes about 15-20 minutes and you can go home the same day.

The Procedure

  • You undress from the waist down and lie down in a special type of chair with padded supports for your legs.
  • A device called a speculum is inserted into your vagina and gently opened.
  • A microscope with a light is used to look at your cervix – this doesn’t touch or enter your body.
  • Special liquids are applied to your cervix to highlight any abnormal areas.
  • A small sample of tissue (a biopsy) may be removed for closer examination in a laboratory – this may be a bit uncomfortable.

If it’s obvious that you have abnormal cells in your cervix, you may have treatment to remove the cells immediately. If this isn’t clear, you’ll need to wait until you get your biopsy results.

It’s often possible to tell you right away if there are any abnormal cells in your cervix. But if you had a biopsy, it may take up to four to eight weeks to receive your results.

Treatments To Remove Abnormal Cells

Treatment to remove abnormal cells is recommended if there’s a moderate or high chance of the cells becoming cancerous if left untreated. There are several simple and effective treatments that can be used to remove the abnormal cells, including large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ – a heated wire loop is used to remove the abnormal cells) and a cone biopsy.

LLETZ is usually carried out while you’re awake but your cervix is numbed. You can go home the same day.

A cone biopsy is usually done under general anaesthetic (where you’re asleep) and you may need to stay in hospital overnight.