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Why do I need a colposcopy?

You will have been invited to have a colposcopy because of the result of your cervical screening test (previously called a ‘smear test’). This is usually for one of 4 reasons, which are:

  • We found some abnormal cells in your cervix and an infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • You have an HPV infection which hasn’t gone away
  • You have had several screening tests where we were unable to give you a result (it is likely there is nothing wrong, but a colposcopy can find out for sure)
  • The nurse or doctor who carried out your screening test thought your cervix did not look as healthy as it should

What you need to know about a colposcopy

A colposcopy examination is carried out to check whether there are abnormal cells on your cervix, and if so, how serious they are. This is a follow-up to your cervical screening test.

Just like at your screening test, the consultant will put a speculum into your vagina and open it gently. They will then use a colposcope to take a close look at your cervix. The colposcope does not go inside you, or even touch your skin. It stays about 30cm (12 inches) outside your vagina. The image of your cervix from the colposcope will sometimes be on a screen. This helps the consultant see your cervix more clearly.

The consultant will dab different liquids onto your cervix. The liquids make any abnormal cells a different colour so that they can be seen more easily. If the consultant finds anything unusual they may take away a small tissue sample, a few millimetres across (a biopsy). The biopsy will then be sent for analysis.

The examination can feel uncomfortable and some people may feel some pain. If it feels painful, tell the nurse or doctor and they will try to make it more comfortable for you.