The ins and outs of colposcopy (pun intended)

If you follow my blog or follow me on Twitter, you will be aware that quite suddenly, over the course of the last 2 months, I’ve quickly become a bit of a smear test advocate. I had my very first test at the beginning of September, just 3 days before my 25th birthday and since then, I’ve been pushing an pushing for more open dialogue and awareness about the importance of having your cervical screenings done. Unfortunately for me, my smear experience didn’t stop after my first test because I got called back to the hospital for a colposcopy because my smear results were abnormal.And that’s what I want to talk about today because I was terrified but I really didn’t need to be and I think if we spoke more openly about these things, women wouldn’t be afraid to get their smears done nor would they be as worried if their smears come back abnormal.

A quick run down of my experience first: I had my smear results back after 3 weeks to say I had “low-grade dyskarosis {which means abnormal cells} and was positive for HPV”. For that reason they booked me a colposcopy appointment at the hospital 3 weeks later. Thankfully, my colposcopy results came back normal – everything was fine and I can now go back to having normal screenings every 3 years. I’m so relived that I didn’t have to have further treatment but my gosh, I am glad I went for my tests.

Now, we all know what a smear test is but a colposcopy? What’s that? A colposcopy is a further examination of the cervix. It’s performed at a Women’s Outpatient clinic at the hospital and takes around 5 minutes. The entire appointment should take about half an hour (not including wait times… we all know what those are like at hospitals).

What happens during a colposcopy?

You’re asked to undress from the waist down and told to lay on the chair with your legs in the stirrups. This isn’t very dignified but it’s the best way to keep everything still so they can get a accurate look. A speculum is inserted (exactly the same as in your smear and you can ask for a smaller speculum – they will be available) to open you up. There is a camera which doesn’t touch your body which magnifies your cervix onto a screen for the examiner (either a doctor or a nurse) to see. You can choose to look at the screen or not – it’s entirely up to you (I chose not to). Two different dyes are then applied to your cervix which makes the abnormal cells show up white (if there are any) and it also determines how fast they appear and the texture. This is all valid information for the doctor or nurse to decide what the next stop for you is.

What does it feel like?

I can only go by my own experience here but the speculum felt just like a bit of pressure opening you up. It’s not particularly comfortable (what “downstairs” examination is?) but you get used to it. The dyes themselves stung a little as they were applied but the nurse aid that’s very normal. It wasn’t unbearable by any means and didn’t hurt at all. It feels a little invasive but what can you expect with where the cervix is in your body? They did have a nice comfy pillow and the table / chair itself was fairly comfortable, so that’s always a bonus!

Why did I get called for a colposcopy?

If you have abnormal cells which are picked up from your smear test, then chances are you’ll be called back for a colposcopy. This doesn’t mean you have cancer and it doesn’t always mean you will need treatment. The lower the grade of abnormalities, the chances of them going back to normal on their own is higher. The cervix is a wonderful thing and it can change all by itself without you even knowing. The colposcopy will then be able to give a better indication of the level of abnormalities and you may have a biopsy taken in the appointment if they want to investigate further. Again, having a biopsy doesn’t mean you have cancer – it just means that there’s an area that they want a closer look at to determine whether you will need treatment.

Things to remember if you get called for a colposcopy:

  • Do not panic. I panicked. A lot. It didn’t help.
  • Read all the information they send you with your letters – they send it for a reason.
  • Take someone with you to your appointment. Moral support is always good. They can come into the examination room with you as well, if you want them to.
  • If you’re really nervous, tell the nurses. They won’t mind and the nurses are so bloody lovely you’ll want to hug them. They are used to women being nervous at these appointments so they can accommodate to how you’re feeling.
  • Ask them to explain your results and what they find if you feel this will help you.
  • Take a pad with you; you may experience some bleeding after especially if you have a biopsy taken. If you forget, make sure you ask the nurses for one! (They will have them)

You can find out more information on the NHS website or Jo’s Trust. The fear of having an abnormal smear result is real but that shouldn’t stop you getting it done. It’s a free, quick and potentially life-saving test. It takes 5 minutes of your time. Book your smears, ladies!

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33 thoughts on “The ins and outs of colposcopy (pun intended)

  1. This is a really useful post as I had thought in my head that a colposcopy was a lot more complicated and invasive than you actually describe it! Hopefully I won’t have to ever have one but I’m glad I know now. x

  2. I honestly think you’re such a brave gem for chatting about this publicly. I’d worked in the NHS for years, knew exactly what the smear process wasn’t, and my first smear still scared the crap out of me – well, it was more the ridiculous nurse her performed it!

    Top tip to anyone – find a nurse you’re comfortable with and never look back!

    Claudia xo

  3. I’m having trouble with my smear at the minute. The nurse couldn’t get me open (it hurt too much) so I’m seeing a (female thankfully) Dr in a couple of weeks. Might even have to be referred to the hospital depending on how it goes

    • That can be quite common – make sure you ask for a smaller speculum if they haven’t tried the smaller one already. Relaxation is really important because the more tense you are, the worse it’ll be. Course that’s easier said than done but maybe they can give you something to take or relaxation exercises to do beforehand.

  4. This is such a good post! I’m going to have my first in a couple of years and everyone I speak to just says its an awful experience. This really helps to actually understand what happens and if further tests are needed. As you say it needs to be spoken about more as people first of all panic when they don’t even know what they are panicking about!xo

    • It absolutely doesn’t have to be an awful experience! My first test wasn’t at all actually, my doctor was lovely, it didn’t hurt and I came out feeling really bloody good! It’s important not to read horror stories – because we’re all unique and will have different experiences. And if you do need further tests, not to panic! Hope yours goes okay when the time comes! xxx

  5. I have been there and done that as well. Thank you for sharing this information with your readers. I had a slight complication during my colposcopy procedure (vasovagal syncope), but it’s rare and should not dissuade *anyone* from having the procedure done.

      • I don’t mind at all. Vasovagal syncope is kind of like a fainting spell. Your blood pressure drops rapidly, your pupils dilate, and you get tunnel vision. Luckily, I was lying down on the table, so no worries about falls, etc. It was actually triggered by the colposcopy itself; the biopsy stimulated the vagus nerve somehow … and that was it! Again, it’s a very rare thing and shouldn’t frighten anyone out of having the procedure.

      • Indeed, it can. Again, though, it’s fairly rare … and I had no idea I was subject to it until it happened (obviously). Frankly, it’s never happened since that time (30+ years ago), but my MDs are still prepared for it.

  6. Pingback: The ins and outs of colposcopy (pun intended) | Campbells World

  7. Ahh I remember seeing your tweets about how anxious you was to get your smear! I’m so glad you don’t need any further treatments! It’s amazing that you are being so informative and putting this out there for us! I don’t think us girls know much about it till it comes to getting a smear done. Thank you for this! I never knew what the colposcopy unit was for but now I do! xx

    louiselovesbeauty.com

    • Awh thank you! And right? The first time I knew PROPERLY what a colposcopy was was when I was told I needed to have one! I don’t know why these aren’t as routinely talked about like other fairly common procedures xxx

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I haven’t even gotten my first pap yet, so this gives me a little info just in case it goes wrong. I am sorry that you had to worry so much. I hope you are okay now. x

    • I have other blog posts about my first smear experience if you ever need to read those when your test comes around eventually! It’s definitely important to talk about the “other” stuff I agree. I’ll always keep my fingers crossed that people’s test will come back okay but the reality is sometimes they don’t and we need to be prepared for the next step (: xxx

  9. This is such a helpful post, Jenny, and you’re a star to be so open about your own experiences. I’ve never had to have a colposcopy but if I ever do get called back then I know just where to come for some common sense advice and reassurance, thank you. X

    Lisa | http://www.lisasnotebook.com

  10. This is such a useful post Jenny 💕. It’s so reassuring and helpful to anyone that may be required to have a colposcopy. It’s also a great reminder to book a smear test! Thank you for sharing your experience and offering your advice 😘 xx

  11. Ahhh, the colposcopy. Like you, I’m ALL about getting our little downstairs lady checked out on the regular. I had an abnormal pap, had to go for a colposcopy biopsy, followed by a Cone LEEP (was then told I had high-risk cervical dysplasia), and then another colposcopy before I was all clear. It was terrifying and my little devil on my shoulder kept telling me I for sure had cervical cancer. When I got the green light I was sooo relieved. HOWEVER, I’m so thankful that we live in a place where it’s possible for us to get our checkups and that the medical system can fix us before we get sick, am I right? 🙂

    • Absolutely! I’m sorry you had to go through all that but I’m glad you did and everything worked out in the end. It can be scary but that’s why I think the more information we put out the better because they’re not diagnostic checks, they’re preventative and pretty common too. I try and look at it as a part of my self care now rather than anything medical and scary! Zxxx

  12. I am very fortunate in that so far (touch wood) I’ve never had to go back for further tests after a smear test, but this was incredibly reassuring and informative to read in case that ever changes. I think it’s so important and so wonderful that you are doing this and helping people with something that can be so needlessly taboo and also frightening! You’re right that an open dialogue is necessary to help people through this – and you should be so proud of yourself for speaking up. It’s really amazing.
    Beth x Adventure & Anxiety

    • I’m really glad to hear you’ve always had normal smears! I hope this comes in handy for the future in case you don’t but yeah you’re absolutely right, if I had read a post like this before my colposcopy I wouldn’t have been as scared. What I was reading was complete horror stories! Which don’t help anyone xxx

  13. Thank you for sharing your experience! I think it’s so important to talk about smear tests more, so women aren’t scared of having them. I had mine a year and a half late, as I was so scared of having it done. And I had the same results as you, was called back in for a colposcopy and had a biopsy taken. Thankfully, all was fine and I’m back to tests every three years but I’m so glad I went for the tests and made sure everything was okay!

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