Why do I need a colposcopy examination?
You may know what a colposcopy is, but you may not know what to expect if you need one. It’s likely that your gynaecologist doctor will advise a colposcopy if you have an abnormal smear test; the procedure is also common if you’re experiencing symptoms such as unexplained bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods or pelvic pain.
A colposcopy examination allows your gynaecologist to examine your cervix, vagina and vulva close up, using a special microscope called a colposcope. It can be performed in our clinic and it doesn’t take long – plus, there’s no recovery time, so you can go about your day as normal once your appointment is finished.
Does a colposcopy hurt?
Having a colposcopy is a similar experience to having a cervical smear. You may experience a little discomfort, but the procedure should not hurt. First, a speculum is inserted into the vagina to gently reveal the cervix. The gynaecologist then views your cervix using a colposcope – a binocular-like instrument that stays outside your vagina, but provides the doctor with a brightly-lit, magnified view of your cervix.
Your cervix is then painted with acetic acid (white vinegar) which may sound unusual, but again should be painless. It just highlights any area containing abnormal cells. Sometimes an iodine stain is also applied to further identify any abnormal cells, as, unlike healthy cells, these do not stain brown.
These procedures allow the colposcopy specialist to grade the appearance of your cervix and recommend the right treatment. A nurse is always present during a colposcopy to support you, as well as assist the gynaecologist.
Colposcopy tests and treatments
If your cervix looks normal, you may require no further treatment than a cervical smear, or swabs to check for infection or the presence of high-risk human papilloma viruses (HPV).
If the colposcopy returns an abnormal result you will need further treatment. Your gynaecologist will want to take a sample (biopsy) of any abnormal areas to send to a laboratory for examination. If this procedure is necessary your cervix will be numbed with a local anaesthetic to avoid any discomfort.
Sometimes, your gynaecologist may need to remove a larger area of cells using a treatment known as LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of Transformation Zone). This is often performed under local anaesthetic, where a small wire loop is used to cut out any affected tissue. The wound is sealed immediately afterwards with the same loop. Because affected cells are removed rather than destroyed, they can be sent away for further examination, as a way of identifying whether there are any potentially harmful cells remaining on your cervix.
LLETZ can cause a cramping sensation, like period cramps, but there should be no sharp pain. The procedure usually takes no more than twenty minutes, and you should be able to go about your day as normal afterwards.
What happens after a cervical biopsy?
Your gynaecologist may apply a yellow-brown paste which acts as a liquid bandage to stop any bleeding. Many women notice a slight blood-stained discharge after a biopsy of the cervix. This will usually clear within a few days, so it can be a good idea to wear a liner in your underwear.
Colposcopy examination and treatment in our London clinic
If your cervical smear test identifies any abnormalities, you may be invited to have a colposcopy. To learn more about cervical screening and our gynaecologists, please call 020 7244 4200 or make an appointment online.