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What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a close examination of a woman's cervix (or neck of womb) using a special microscope called a colposcope. The colposcope can also be used to examine for abnormal cells in the woman's genital tract, either inside or on the outside of the vagina. It is not an operation and no anaesthetic or stay in hospital is necessary.

Your doctor may recommend you have a colposcopy after an abnormal cervical screening test or due to symptoms such as bleeding from the cervix. A colposcopy is a more accurate test because the doctor can have a closer look at the cervix to assess whether further treatment is required.

Before a colposcopy

Doctors prefer not to do a colposcopy when a women has a period. Some women experience cramping (like period pains) during the colposcopy. You may find it helpful to take a painkiller, like paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory normally used for period pain an hour before the procedure to minimise discomfort.

During a colposcopy

Having a colposcopy is similar to having a cervical screening test but will take about 10-15 minutes. First a speculum is inserted into your vagina. The doctor paints the cervix with a solution to highlight any abnormal areas and the colposcope is then placed at the entrance to the vagina to enable the doctor to look at the cervix through the colposcope. The colposcope magnifies the cervix 15-30 times.

The doctor may perform a biopsy (the removal of tiny pieces of tissue) from any areas of concern. Biopsies generally are not painful but you may have some discomfort. The tissue collected is sent to a laboratory for testing to determine if treatment is necessary.

After a colposcopy

It is important that you discuss your follow up with the doctor before going home.

You will have some bloodstained discharge or spotting for a couple of days. If a biopsy is taken then precautions need to be taken to lower the risk of infection or bleeding.

Avoid heavy physical exercise, swimming, bathing and spas for 2 days. Having a shower is fine. Avoid penetrative sex for at least a week after a biopsy. Please contact your doctor if you have any heavy bleeding, fever or offensive vaginal discharge.

Generally, you will not need time off work after a colposcopy.

Ongoing management: 

It is important that you see the doctor for follow up care after the colposcopy. At this visit the doctor will explain what was seen and your results and recommended follow-up or treatments.