Once you have had your cervical screening appointment (see our previous blog on smear tests HERE), you will receive your results in the post a few weeks later. This will confirm if you need any follow up tests or not and will explain next steps.

It will explain if human papillomavirus (HPV) was found in your sample or not, and what your result means. Sometimes you’ll be asked to come back in 3 months to have the test again. This does not mean there’s anything wrong, it’s because the results were unclear. This is sometimes called an inadequate result.

Most people will find no HPV (a negative result); this means your risk of developing cervical cancer is extremely low and you will not need any further checks for abnormal cells changes, even if you’ve had to have this in the past. Your normal screening will result 3 or 5-yearly.

If HPV is found in your sample (a positive result), you may need another screening in a year, or a procedure called a colposcopy to take a further more in-depth look at your cervix. There are two types of HPV positive results possible:

  • HPV found but no abnormal cell changes: you’ll be asked to have another screening in 1 year to check any development.
  • HPV found and there are abnormal cell changes: you’ll be invited to have a colposcopy at the hospital.

HPV is extremely common and can develop at any time, even if it’s been contracted years ago and been dormant. It does not mean you have cancer – it only detects if you are at risk of developing cancer and is an extremely useful and effective way of helping to catch anything sinister very early.

Colposcopy Appointments

If you have been invited to have a colposcopy, there is absolutely nothing to fear. Hopefully this article will help to alleviate any concerns but the NHS website also has lots of resources to help you understand what to expect and anticipate from the experience.

When you arrive for your colposcopy, you’ll wait to be called through by the nurse or doctor. Make sure you get there before your appointment is due so you can have a cup of water and a sit down to help calm any nerves. When you are called through, you’ll have a short consultation with the doctor to check personal details and history, and you’ll then be asked to undress your bottom half in a closed room or behind a screen. You’ll be given a sheet or towel as a covering to wrap around yourself. Your items will be kept securely in the closed room whilst you go into the examination room.

Here, you will be asked to lie on an examination couch with your ankles to your bottom and knees apart. You will be covered with a sheet the entire time, and the doctor and a nurse will be present. If for any reason you are unable to get into this position, the doctor can examine you on your side instead. The colposcopy will then begin when you are ready, and the nurse and doctor will talk to you the whole way through to reassure and calm you, explaining exactly what they are doing.

During the colposcopy, a smooth tube (a speculum) is placed into the vagina in the same way it is during a smear. A microscope is then used to look at your cervix in greater detail – this stays outside of your body. They may use a liquid to detect abnormal cell changes; this may feel stingy, but most don’t feel anything at all, just the slightly uncomfortable feel of the speculum.

If no cell changes are found, you will be informed straight away, and referred for your normal screening every 3-5 years. If abnormal changes can be seen or the doctor is not totally sure, they may treat them there and then, or will opt to take a biopsy just in case. This is where a small sample of your cervix tissue is taken, and the doctor will discuss this with you before any procedure is undertaken. It takes only a second to do, but you will feel the sample being taken and it may be slightly painful. If you are anxious, you may have the option of having a local anaesthetic prior to the biopsy sample being taken. The biopsy is then sent to a laboratory for testing.

After the Appointment

After the colposcopy has been completed, you’ll wrap the covering around yourself again and return to the closed room your personal belongings are in to re-dress. Here, especially if you have had a biopsy taken, you will be supplied wipes and sanitary towels (though you may wish to bring your own) as you may experience some bleeding. This is very normal, but if you are experiencing bleeding that’s heavy or you’re still bleeding 5 days after the appointment, you need to contact your GP.

You should avoid inserting anything into the vagina (e.g. a tampon, sex etc.) for 5 days after the procedure. This will reduce the risk of infection.

The whole procedure usually takes around 20 minutes to complete and you should be able to return home straight after. It’s advised to ensure you have some quiet time to rest afterwards in case you experience any discomfort, cramping, and/or bleeding, though not every person experiences this. 

Colposcopy Results

If you have had a biopsy taken, results will be received by post 4-6 weeks later. The biopsy may find no abnormal cells. This is a ‘normal’ result, and you will then be invited to your normal routine screening every 3-5 years.

If abnormal cells are found, an ‘abnormal result’, this does not mean you have cancer. It does, however, mean you are at greater risk of developing cancer if it is not treated. That’s why screening is so important and worthwhile, after all! 

  • If the cells are of low risk, no immediate treatment will be required, but you will be invited to follow up screening and/or colposcopy appointments to monitor the cells.
  • If the cells are a medium risk, you will have a follow up colposcopy to check the cells and potentially remove or treat them.
  • If the cells are deemed high risk, you will be given treatment to remove them.

Further Information and Sources of Support

In addition to the NHS website, Jo’s Trust offer really useful information and guidance on cervical screening and colposcopies. Cancer Research UK also have some info on their website too. Remember to speak with friends and family members that have experienced the procedure(s) too, as they will be able to give you practical advice and first-hand information on what to expect based on their own experiences.

Whilst there is nothing to be afraid of about the appointment, it is absolutely normal to feel anxious. Remember, it’s a wonderful service offered for free by the NHS to prevent and treat any indicators of cervical cancer; any pain, discomfort, embarrassment, or anxiety is 1000% worth it if it means either preventing further treatment being needed, or finding and treating any found issues early. If cancer is detected, though extraordinarily rare, at least you know about it and it will be dealt with. Just remember to be kind to yourself, be patient, and read up on the procedure to help alleviate any concerns.

Best of luck ❤️