Cervical Screening

Being referred for colposcopy and treatment

We talked to women about how they felt about being referred for a colposcopy examination. Many said they felt anxiety, fear and panic (see 'Abnormal test results'). Only very rarely will the biopsy taken during this examination show that cell changes have already developed in to cancer.

The colposcopy examination allows the doctor to see the type and area of the abnormality on the cervix. A magnifying device, called a colposcope, is used to examine the cervix and to see the area of abnormal cells more clearly.The colposcope does not go into your body. A small sample of the abnormal cells (a punch biopsy) may also be taken during the examination to assess the stage of the abnormal cells. The colposcopy and biopsy enable doctors to assess whether the cell changes are Cervical Intra-epithelial Neoplasia (CIN). CIN means abnormal cells found on the surface of the cervix. The cell changes can be classed as  CIN1, CIN2 or CIN3. This classification is used to indicate how far from the surface of the cervix the abnormality extends

Treatment is usually given to remove CIN2 or CIN3 abnormal cells. It is done in the outpatient colposcopy clinic, sometimes the same time as the examination. 

Several women we interviewed said that it was the waiting that was the worst part of their experience. Waiting for test results, or waiting for treatment was a very anxious time, especially when it took place over several months.

Many women felt very anxious and nervous before their colposcopy appointment particularly if they had waited a long time for their appointment.

At the colposcopy examination, “The doctor may be able to tell you what is wrong and what treatment, if any, is needed. But often, especially if you have had a biopsy, you will not be given a definite diagnosis immediately after the examination. It will take a week or two before you get the results of the biopsy.” - NHS Cancer Screening Programmes - The colposccopy examination' 2012.

Women we interviewed who were told that the changes shown in their screening test were due to infection or inflammation said they felt relieved. Others were worried when they were told that they had CIN2 or CIN3 which needed treatment. One woman who had been having colposcopy examinations over a period of many years said it was only when she was told that she needed treatment that she felt fearful that she might have cancer, which proved not to be the case.

Many women said that the experience of having abnormal cervical cells and being referred for colposcopy and having treatment had been a very emotional experience. Some women were very up and down or had felt depressed at times. Others talked about the worry they experienced and how it was easy to let their imagination run wild.

For more information see ‘Cervical abnormalities: CIN3 and CGIN'.

Last reviewed October 2015.

Last updated October 2015.

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