For assessment and treatment of women with abnormal smears
Why do I need a colposcopy?
You may be asked to come for a colposcopy if your cervical screening test (smear) has shown evidence of abnormal cells. It is not unusual for a screening test to be abnormal; about 1 in 12 tests reveal cell changes.
What is a colposcopy?
Colposcopy is a simple examination which allows the doctor to see the type and area of the abnormality on your cervix and decide if treatment is needed.
Preparing for the examination
It is not possible to do a colposcopy if you have your period on the day of the appointment. Please telephone us for an alternative appointment should this situation arise.
During the examination
The doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina, just as when you had your cervical screening test. Sometimes a repeat smear is taken. After this the doctor will look at your cervix using the colposcope. The colposcope is a microscope. No part of the microscope itself enters the vagina.
The doctor will dab different liquids onto your cervix to help identify areas of abnormal cells. The abnormal cells will appear white.
Sometimes a biopsy is taken, a small sample of tissue about the size of a pinhead. You may feel a slight stinging, but it should not be painful. You may experience a brown discharge for a couple of days, but this is quite normal.
What do the results mean?
Colposcopy defines the type and extent of the abnormal area of the cervix, from which the doctor can decide if you need treatment. The biopsy may also show how abnormal the area is.
Cell changes confirmed by biopsy are known as cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia, CIN.
A scale is used:
- CIN1 means that only a third of the cells in the affected area are abnormal. These may be left to return to normal or may be treated, depending on your doctor’s opinion.
- CIN2 means that up to two thirds of the cells in the affected are abnormal. Treatment will usually be needed to return the cells to normal.
- CIN3 means that all the cells in the affected area are abnormal. Treatment will be needed to return the cells to normal.
Only very rarely will a biopsy show cell changes that have already developed into cancer. Surgery and more extensive treatments are generally used to treat cervical cancer.
After the examination
The doctor will discuss your case with you and plan any follow up appointments.