A colposcopy shows the cervix in detail using a specially-adapted type of microscope called a colposcope. It acts like a magnifying glass, so that the person doing the examination can see the whole cervix clearly. A colposcopy is used to confirm whether you have CIN (or very rarely, if you have cancer) and how severe it might be (the grade).
You’ll have your colposcopy at your local colposcopy unit, which is usually at a hospital outpatient’s clinic. Almost all hospitals with gynaecological units have the facilities to do a colposcopy.
A colposcopy can be carried out by a specialist doctor or a nurse colposcopist. Colposcopists follow national guidelines when deciding whether you need further tests or treatment. Before your examination, you’ll have a chance to discuss your screening test results, and any worries that you have, with the doctors or nurses at the clinic.
It was not an unpleasant experience; the doctor was superb, as was the nurse. They took me through what was going to happen and asked me if I had any worries about the procedure.
You’ll be helped to position yourself on a specially-designed chair or examination table. When you’re lying comfortably, the colposcopist will use a speculum, in the same way as in the screening test, so that your cervix can be seen. The cervix is then painted with a liquid to make the abnormal areas show up more clearly. A light is shone onto the cervix and the doctor or nurse will look through the colposcope, which stays outside your body, to examine the surface of the cervix. A small sample (biopsy) of cells may be taken from the cervix. These cells are examined under a microscope in the laboratory.
A colposcopy takes 15-20 minutes and so is longer than the screening test. It’s not usually painful, but you may feel some pain if a biopsy is taken. The biopsy may also cause some slight bleeding for a couple of days afterwards.