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Medically Reviewed April 2023, by Mr. Bryan Mayou (GMC: 1414396) - founder of the Cadogan Clinic and one of the world's leading plastic surgeons
A colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure designed to examine the cervix, the opening to the womb from the vagina.
In a colposcopy procedure, a microscope is used to have a closer look at the cervix. You may be offered a colposcopy after a smear test, but the procedure can also be used to find out the cause of other symptoms, for example, vaginal bleeding following sexual intercourse. A colposcopy biopsy, where a sample of tissue is taken for further testing, may follow the procedure.
The colposcopy procedure is very quick, taking just 15 to 20 minutes from start to finish. An anaesthetic is not usually necessary as the procedure doesn’t hurt, although some women may experience mild discomfort.
A colposcopy procedure may feel a little bit daunting, but it is a highly effective diagnostic tool used to identify illnesses such as cancer. Most of the time, a colposcopy will find nothing of concern. But if you do feel anxious about your colposcopy, speak to one of our expert medical team who will help to put your mind at rest.
Words from our clients:
"I was extremely satisfied with the care and treatment I received at the Cadogan Clinic. My surgeon was friendly and informative and explained the procedure fully. My procedure went very well and with the excellent care of the nursing staff, I made a speedy and full recovery. Would recommend to anyone."Eva Berry
"At the beginning before the operation the nurse taking care of me made me feel so comfortable. The surgeon and anesthetist helped me feel so calm. Fantastic before and after treatment"Scarlett Elliott
"The girls on the reception at the clinic were very pleasant and professional. The nurse who took out my stitches after my surgery was just lovely and took me through step by step what she was doing and she also recommended a great cream to use to help with healing."Georgina Nolan
“I was treated with care and provided with thorough knowledge about the procedure I was undertaking. My surgeon was very methodical (a perfectionist) and I felt I received A class treatment."Courtney O'Sullivan
"Outstanding experience from the first appointment to being discharged. Very professional, friendly and a fantastic outcome."Gemma Stevenson
"Reception staff very welcoming and efficient. Both nurses who I dealt with were fantastic, and the whole team (anaesthetist, surgeon etc) were friendly but professional, and really put my mind at ease. That I was able to stay later than I perhaps needed after my surgery to fit in with my husbands schedule was greatly appreciated."Emma Davies
A colposcopy procedure is sometimes carried out after a cervical smear test. A cervical smear is a routine test which can identify abnormal cells on the cervix. But a colposcopy can also be used to investigate other health issues involving the cervix. Here we will look at the main reasons when a colposcopy is necessary.
If your cervical screening, or smear test, detects the presence of abnormal cells, then further investigation is required. Although these abnormal cells are not cancer, there is a risk that these may turn into cervical cancer if they are not treated promptly.
You may also be offered a colposcopy if the results of your smear test showed changes to the cervical cells or if it had not been possible to obtain clear results, despite several attempts at a smear test.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a very common group of viruses. There are more than one hundred different types of HPV and most are not cause for concern. However some of these viruses may cause cancer or other gynaecological problems, such as genital warts. If you have been infected with HPV, then you will need to have a colposcopy.
A colposcopy is not only used to detect the presence of abnormal, precancerous or cancerous cells. A colposcopy procedure may be used to investigate other gynaecological health concerns. These include:
You are suitable for a colposcopy if one or more of the following are true:
You can still have a colposcopy if you are pregnant. A colposcopy procedure will not harm your baby. You may need to rearrange your colposcopy if you are on your period or if you are due that day. Please let us know in advance if this is the case.
You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lay on a couch with your knees bent.
A smooth device called a speculum will be carefully inserted into your vagina to hold it open. This is the same type of device that will have been used during your cervical screening (smear) test.
An instrument called a colposcope, which looks like a pair of binoculars, will be used to examine the cells on your cervix. The colposcope does not touch you and is not inserted into your vagina, but stays around 12 inches outside of the body and the cells are displayed on a screen.
The person carrying out your colposcopy procedure may then put different liquids onto your cervix in order to make any abnormal cells more visible. If abnormal cells are found, a tissue sample measuring no more than a few millimetres across will be taken from the cervix. This is known as a biopsy. This sample will then undergo laboratory testing. Depending on what is discovered, treatment may be recommended straight away.
You may experience a small amount of vaginal discharge or bleeding following your colposcopy, so you may wish to bring a pantyliner with you to your appointment.
You should not have sex or use any creams, lubrications or medications on your vagina, or use tampons, for at least 24 hours before your colposcopy procedure.
The colposcopist is usually able to tell you the results of your colposcopy procedure straightaway. If there is any doubt, a biopsy will be taken for laboratory tests. The results may take up to four weeks.
Around four out of 10 women who have a colposcopy have a normal result, meaning the cervix is healthy and they are at a low risk of developing cervical cancer before their next smear test. Six out of 10 women who have a colposcopy procedure have abnormal cells in their cervix. The most common type is cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). Cell abnormalities found in the glandular cells inside the lining of the birth canal of the cervix are known as intraepithelial neoplasia (CGIN). This is less common than CIN.
Although CIN and CGIN are not cancer, they can sometimes develop into cancer if not treated promptly.
CIN is graded from one to three according to its severity, with three being at the highest risk of developing into cervical cancer. CGIN is classed as either low-grade or high-grade.
CIN 1 cells will normally disappear on their own and no treatment is required. You will be invited for a follow-up smear test in 12 months. CIN 2, CIN 3 and CGIN abnormal cells will be removed to lower the risk of these cells developing into cancer.
The most common method of removing these cells is by large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ). This procedure uses a thin wire loop that's heated with an electric current to remove the affected cells. It takes around five to 10 minutes and you can go home on the same day as the procedure. Local anaesthetic is used to numb the area, although you may experience some mild pain or cramping after LLETZ.
The procedure may take longer if a larger area of the cervix needs to be treated and a general anaesthetic may be used. Alternatively, a cone biopsy may be carried out if a larger area is being treated. This involves removing a large cone-shaped piece of tissue via laser or scalpel. This is carried out under a general anaesthetic.
Other treatments include cryotherapy (freezing and destroying abnormal cells), laser treatment (a laser is used to pinpoint and destroy abnormal cells), cold coagulation (abnormal cells are burned away) and a total hysterectomy (only considered if abnormal cells have been detected more than once or if cells are severely abnormal).
Very occasionally, the colposcopy and biopsy will detect cervical cancer. If this is the case, you will be referred to a team of specialists and cancer treatment will begin as soon as possible.
We have invited a selection of the country's very best consultants to join us at the Cadogan Clinic so that you can be sure that whatever the nature of your treatment, you will be seeing one of the top practitioners in the country.
The Patient Journey. A breakdown of what you can expect on your journey with us
We are deeply invested in ensuring that every step of your surgical journey with us is as informative and reassuring to you as it can be. This article outlines what you can expect at each stage of the journeyThe Patient Journey
Does a colposcopy mean I have cancer?
No, having a colposcopy does not mean that you have cancer. It is a diagnostic procedure which allows for closer inspection of abnormal cells. These cells may or may not indicate cancer. It is worth remembering that a colposcopy is often used to rule out the presence of cancer. It is rare to find cervical cancer during a colposcopy procedure. If you have any concerns, you should talk to your doctor who will do their best to set your mind at rest.
How painful is a colposcopy?
A colposcopy procedure is not painful, although it is common to feel some discomfort when the speculum is inserted into the vagina. You may also experience a mild stinging or tingling when the doctor puts liquid on your cervix to help show up any abnormal cells that might be present. During a colposcopy biopsy, a small tissue sample is removed for testing, which may result in a scratching or mild pinching sensation. If you do experience any pain, it may be possible to apply a local anaesthetic.
For a few days after a colposcopy you may experience some mild pain, which may feel like period pain. Simple over-the-counter painkillers can help with this.
How long does it take to recover from a colposcopy?
A colposcopy procedure is quick and there is no downtime attached. The procedure is over in just 15 to 20 minutes and then you may leave the clinic. You may feel like resting at home, but you may feel well enough to return to work or continue with your other day-to-day activities.
You may feel some mild cramping, similar to period pain, around the lower abdomen following your colposcopy. You are likely to have some bleeding and discharge coming from the vagina after the procedure. This should only last for a few days.
What is a cervical biopsy?
In a cervical biopsy, the doctor will take a sample of tissue from the cervix to test for abnormal cells, precancerous conditions or cervical cancer.
There are different types of biopsy, including a punch biopsy (a circular blade similar to a hole puncher is used to remove the tissue), a cone biopsy (a laser or scalpel is used to remove large cone-shaped piece of tissue) and endocervical curettage (a narrow instrument called a curette is used to scrape the lining of the endocervical canal).
How much does a private colposcopy cost?
Private colposcopy costs in the UK start from around £650. The final cost depends on what is included in the diagnostics package and whether any treatment is included.
If you choose the Cadogan Clinic for your private colposcopy in London, you will get:
Can I get a colposcopy on the NHS?
Yes, you can get a colposcopy on the NHS. However the NHS has been, and continues to be, hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. High levels of staff sickness have had an impact on waiting times across the board. These waiting times vary from hospital to hospital. And any new waves of Covid-19 infections may result in this wait getting even longer. Because of this, many people choose to go to a private clinic for their colposcopy. At the Cadogan Clinic, there is no waiting list, so you can have the procedure promptly.
Founded in 2004 by world renowned plastic surgeon Mr Bryan Mayou, we now work with over 100 leading consultants and successfully treat over 20,000 patients each year. We have been winning industry awards since inception.About Us
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