Main test for cervical cancer (colposcopy)
If you have abnormal cells in your cervix, which could mean you have cervical cancer, you'll usually be referred for a test to have a closer look at your cervix. This is called a colposcopy.
You'll be asked to undress from the waist down, behind a screen. You'll be given a sheet to put over you.
During a colposcopy:
- The specialist nurse or doctor will ask you to lie back on a bed, usually with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart.
- They'll gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina so they can see your cervix. A small amount of lubricant may be used.
- A microscope with a light at the end is used to look at your cervix. The microscope stays outside your body.
- The nurse or doctor will usually put a liquid on your cervix to show any abnormal areas.
- A small sample of cells (biopsy) may be collected to send to a laboratory.
The test should take around 15 to 30 minutes.
It should not be painful, but you may find it uncomfortable. Talk to the nurse or doctor if you're feeling uncomfortable.
If you had a biopsy, you may have a small amount of bleeding or cramping afterwards.
Getting your results
It can take several weeks to get the results of your colposcopy.
You may be asked to go to the hospital to get your results, or they may be sent to you in the post.
Try not to worry if your results are taking a long time to get to you. It does not definitely mean anything is wrong.
You can call the hospital or GP if you're worried. They should be able to update you.
A specialist will explain what the results mean and what will happen next. You may want to bring someone with you for support.
If you're told you have cervical cancer
Being told you have cervical cancer can feel overwhelming. You may be feeling anxious about what will happen next.
It can help to bring someone with you to any appointments you have.
A group of specialists will look after you throughout your diagnosis, treatment and beyond.
This will include a clinical nurse specialist, who will be your main point of contact during and after treatment.
You can ask them any questions you have.
Macmillan Cancer Support has a free helpline that's open every day from 8am to 8pm.
They're there to listen if you have anything you want to talk about.
Call 0808 808 00 00
If you've been told you have cervical cancer, you'll usually need more tests.
These, along with the colposcopy, will help the specialists find out the size of the cancer and how far it's spread (called the stage).
You may need:
- blood tests
- scans, like a CT scan, MRI scan, PET scan or chest X-ray
- an internal examination of your vagina and cervix – you'll have a general anaesthetic, which means you'll be asleep during the examination
You may not have all these tests.
The specialists will use the results of these tests and work with you to decide on the best treatment plan for you.
Page last reviewed: 02 September 2021
Next review due: 02 September 2024