After a colposcopy, the colposcopist will have an idea straight away whether you have abnormal cells in your cervix.
If they are unsure, a biopsy may need to be carried out.
In some cases, it may be possible for the abnormal cells to be treated during your colposcopy.
If you have had a biopsy during your colposcopy, the tissue sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. Testing will help determine the extent of the cell changes in your cervix. You usually have to wait several weeks for your biopsy results. You will then be asked to return to the clinic to discuss them.
The medical term for abnormal cervical cell change is cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN). CIN is not cancer, however, CIN cells can sometimes develop into cancerous cells.
In some cases, cell abnormalities are detected in the glandular cells found in the inside lining of the cervix. These abnormalities are known as cervical glandular intra-epithelial neoplasia (CGIN). CGIN is less common than CIN.
The detection of CIN or CGIN does not necessarily mean you have or will develop cancer.
Grading CIN and CGIN
CGIN is usually classed as either low grade or high grade. High grade CGIN is the equivalent on CIN 3 (see below).
Doctors use a CIN scale ranging from 1 to 3 to classify how many cervical cells are abnormal. The scale is described below.
CIN 1 cells indicate that up to a third of cells in the affected area of your cervix are abnormal. Your specialist will advise about the best course of treatment. Treatment is not always recommended for CIN 1 because the cells return to normal without treatment in about 60% of cases.
CIN 2 cells indicate that up to two thirds of cells in the affected area of your cervix are abnormal. If you have CIN 2 cells, you will usually need to have these removed.
CIN 3 or CGIN
CIN 3 or CGIN cells indicate that all of the cells in the affected area of your cervix are abnormal. If this is the case, these cells will need to be removed.
In rare cases, a biopsy will show that some of the abnormal cells in your cervix have become cancerous. If this is the case, you will need to have further tests and your specialist will arrange any necessary treatment as soon as possible.
Depending on your colposcopy or biopsy results, you may need treatment immediately or you may need a repeat colposcopy:
- If you have CIN 1 cells, you will need a repeat colposcopy every six to 12 months to monitor the cells and see whether further treatment is required.
- If you have CIN 2 or 3 cells, immediate treatment is usually recommended.
CIN and CGIN are treated in exactly the same way.
Read more about colposcopy treatment.