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Open Access Research article

Women's experience of colposcopy: a qualitative investigation

Dawn R Swancutt1*, Sheila M Greenfield1, David M Luesley2 and Sue Wilson1

Author Affiliations

1 Primary Care Clinical Sciences, The University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

2 Pan Birmingham Gynaecological Cancer Centre, City Hospital, Birmingham, UK

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BMC Women's Health 2011, 11:11  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-11-11

Published: 13 April 2011



The last comprehensive investigation of women's experience of the colposcopy service in the UK was conducted in the 1980's. It highlighted women's anxiety and lack of information, resulting in recommendations for improvements. Since then the colposcopy service has changed substantially. It is therefore time to re-visit women's experience of this service and reflect upon the success of service changes in improving experience and reducing anxiety. The aim of this study was to investigate women's experience of being referred for, and attending, colposcopy appointments, and identify potential service improvements.


Qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted with 18 women newly referred for colposcopy in the West Midlands, UK. The interviews were designed to elicit the experience of colposcopy from the patients' perspective.


The eight emerging themes were catogised as three overarching concepts, which were: feelings of emotional reaction, choices being accommodated and time delays. Women felt very apprehensive before their appointment, but when attending, appreciated being consulted about their preferences. Delays in referral and feeling 'rushed' by staff impacted negatively on women's experience.


Service changes in information provision and increased respect for dignity seem to have improved the experience that women have of colposcopy, however, this does not appear to have translated into decreased anxiety. Women still have strong emotional reactions to being referred for, and attending, colposcopy appointments. Staff taking time to explain the diagnosis fully, and discuss their preferences about aspects of their consultation can alleviate their anxiety.