What is a Colposcopy?

Colposcopy office

The Colposcopist will explain why you have been called and what happens .


Colposcopy is a simple examination of the cervix with a colposcope. It lets the doctor or nurse look more closely at the changes on the cervix to decide if any treatment is needed.  The procedure is done as an outpatient appointment at hospital.

The colposcope is a low-power microscope mounted on a stand, used to look at the cervix under magnification. The examination is similar to the screening test.

Preparing for a colposcopy test:
The colposcopy examination itself takes only 15 minutes, but you should allow up to an hour for your whole visit.  This will include consultation with your colposcopist about the procedure.

What happens during the test
For comfort, you may want to wear a loose skirt to your appointment.  If not wearing a skirt, you will be asked to undress from the waist down and position yourself on a special couch, which will have padded support for your legs. 

A nurse will be present throughout to assist you as much as you need. The doctor or specialist nurse will gently insert the speculum into your vagina, just like the initial screening test.  This holds open the vaginal walls and allows a good view of the cervix. The colposcopist will look at the cervix through the colposcope (which does not touch you).

Another smear may be taken before a liquid is painted on the cervix to help show up any abnormal areas; this liquid may sting a little.  A small sample of tissue (a biopsy) may be taken from an abnormal area.  The biopsy may be uncomfortable but will not be painful.  Further information is available in the Cervical Screening Information film.

After your examination
After your colposcopy you can usually return to work or carry on with your normal day.

What if I need treatment
The colposcopist will explain if you need any treatment. Sometimes this can be done at the time of your colposcopy or you may be asked to come back when the results of the biopsy are available.  The treatment is usually simple to remove the abnormal area of cells and can be done under local anaesthetic as an outpatient.  The choice of treatment used will depend on your case.

Will I need check-ups
Around six months after treatment you will usually be offered a cervical screening test again to check that your treatment has been successful. This test will be carried out at the hospital clinic.

If the result is normal/mild/borderline it will be tested for high risk HPV.  If the test is negative for high risk HPV, you will be at low risk of ongoing cervical disease at that point in time.  It will be important that you attend for screening again in three years.

If the cervical screening result shows moderate/severe changes, or if the high risk HPV test is positive, you will be referred for another colposcopy.

Although one in five women are invited back for another colposcopy, only a few will need further treatment.  This is because it can take longer than 6 months for your immune system to clear HPV after treatment. Your hospital team will keep you under review until they are happy that you can safely return to routine screening tests.