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Keywords:

  • After-effects;
  • colposcopy;
  • complications;
  • LLETZ;
  • punch biopsies

Objective  Few studies have investigated physical after-effects of colposcopy. We compared post-colposcopy self-reported pain, bleeding, discharge and menstrual changes in women who underwent: colposcopic examination only; cervical punch biopsies; and large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ).

Design  Observational study nested within a randomised controlled trial.

Setting  Grampian, Tayside and Nottingham.

Population  Nine hundred-and-twenty-nine women, aged 20–59, with low-grade cytology, who had completed their initial colposcopic management.

Methods  Women completed questionnaires on after-effects at approximately 6-weeks, and on menstruation at 4-months, post-colposcopy.

Main outcome measures  Frequency of pain, bleeding, discharge; changes to first menstrual period post-colposcopy.

Results  Seven hundred-and-fifty-one women (80%) completed the 6-week questionnaire. Of women who had only a colposcopic examination, 14–18% reported pain, bleeding or discharge. Around half of women who had biopsies only and two-thirds treated by LLETZ reported pain or discharge (biopsies: 53% pain, 46% discharge; LLETZ: 67% pain, 63% discharge). The frequency of bleeding was similar in the biopsy (79%) and LLETZ groups (87%). Women treated by LLETZ reported bleeding and discharge of significantly longer duration than other women. The duration of pain was similar across management groups. Forty-three percent of women managed by biopsies and 71% managed by LLETZ reported some change to their first period post-colposcopy, as did 29% who only had a colposcopic examination.

Conclusions  Cervical punch biopsies and, especially, LLETZ carry a substantial risk of after-effects. After-effects are also reported by women managed solely by colposcopic examination. Ensuring that women are fully informed about after-effects may help to alleviate anxiety and provide reassurance, thereby minimising the harms of screening.