Colposcopy is a specialist procedure done to look at your cervix.
During colposcopy a specialist doctor or nurse looks at the cells in your cervix using a microscope called a colposcope. The colposcope looks like a pair of binoculars on a stand. It magnifies the cervix so that any cell changes can be seen.
Colposcopies only takes about 15 minutes, but you will probably be at the clinic for 30 minutes.
Sometimes during colposcopy they take a small sample of tissue (biopsy). The biopsy takes only a couple of seconds and may be a bit uncomfortable.
Colposcopy at a public hospital is free if you are eligible for public health services in Aotearoa New Zealand. You can also arrange to be seen at a private clinic.
Find out who is eligible for publicly-funded healthcare.
When you need colposcopy
If your cervical screen test shows an abnormal result, you may need colposcopy as an extra check.
You may also be referred for colposcopy because your healthcare provider recommends it.
It is important to go to your colposcopy appointment even if you do not have any symptoms, as abnormal cells may develop into cancer if left untreated.
Before your appointment
When you confirm your appointment, let them know if you have any special needs, for example if you are pregnant. It is safe to have colposcopy when you are pregnant. However, it is unlikely a biopsy or treatment will be recommended during this time.
You can bring someone to support you, such as your partner, a family or whānau member or friend.
If you need to change your appointment, make sure you do this early — for example, if you will have your period at the time of the appointment.
The specialist nurse or doctor asks some questions about your health. They will check when your last period was.
Your specialist will explain the procedure and what you can expect. Ask them any questions you have about the procedure.
You can get changed in a private area before the procedure. The nurse in the clinic will explain what you need to do.
You lie on a bed, using leg rests. This makes it more comfortable and helps the specialist get a clear view of your cervix through the colposcope.
Your specialist uses a speculum, like the one used for having a cervical sample taken, to make examining your cervix easier. The speculum can feel a bit uncomfortable, but relaxing your pelvic muscles and breathing normally can help. The colposcope will not touch you during the test.
They paint a liquid onto the surface of your cervix to make any cell changes easier to see.
The specialist will talk to you about what they could see and what will happen next. If you had a biopsy they will give you some information about what to expect after the biopsy.
After colposcopy you might feel cramping. You can treat this like normal period pain.
If you had a biopsy, you may also get some bleeding or reddish discharge from your vagina, which may last a few days.
This is normal and should stop within a week. If it lasts longer than a week, call your colposcopy clinic.
Until the bleeding stops (1 week), do the following to help your cervix heal.
- Use sanitary pads, not tampons.
- Have showers instead of baths.
- Do not have sex.
- Do not put anything into the vaginal area.
- Do not use spa pools or swimming pools.
If you start to bleed more than when you have your period, if the bleeding goes on for more than a week, or if you have pain that is not going away, phone the clinic where you had your colposcopy for advice.
Getting your results
Your biopsy is sent to the laboratory for testing.
It takes about a month for your lab results to come back. Phone the coloscopy clinic if you have not heard anything after a month.
In rare circumstances, your colposcopy may have to be repeated if your biopsy results were not conclusive.
Understand your results
The clinic will explain your results once you get them. Find out about different types of results and what they mean.
Your results will also be sent to your doctor or screen-taker. A copy is held on your behalf in the National Cervical Screening Programme Register.
If you need treatment
If your result means you need some form of treatment, treatment options will be discussed with you.