The importance of preparatory sensory information for follow-up procedures in cervical cancer screening

new paper published by researchers from CERVIVA sheds light on women’s sensory experiences of colposcopy and related procedures. The findings of the research suggest women require more preparatory sensory information.

A colposcopy is a hospital exam that is used to follow-up women with abnormal cervical cytology test (smear test) results. Each year around 15,800 women in Ireland attend colposcopy clinics for colposcopies or related procedures (e.g. a LLETZ treatment to remove abnormal cervical cells) for the first time. Evidence suggests undergoing colposcopy can be distressing for some women. The distress can sometimes be related to women’s fear, or experience, of pain during the procedure. Beyond reports of pain, little is known about women’s sensory experiences of colposcopy and what might impact on these experiences.

The study, funded by the HRB, involved interviewing women who underwent colposcopy within the cervical cancer screening programme (CervicalCheck). The aim of the study was to explore women’s sensory experiences of colposcopy and identify factors which influenced women having negative sensory experiences.

Women described a range of sensory experiences. They also described sensations that were specific to the taking of biopsies, LLETZ treatment and application of anaesthetic (e.g. slight shaking of legs, heart beating faster). Some women had negative sensory experiences of their procedures and this appeared to be related to expectations of how the procedures would feel and the information they received beforehand. A lack of preparatory information on how the procedures may feel was related to women having unrealistic sensory expectations. For example, some women expected the colposcopy to feel smear to a smear test and did not expect to experience pain or discomfort.

The issues identified as contributing to women having a negative sensory experience may help inform the development of pre-colposcopy information which may better prepare women with abnormal cervical cytology for follow-up exams. The provision of more information on sensory and procedural aspects (e.g. in the form of a pictorial information video) of colposcopy and related procedures could have a positive impact on women’s experiences.

The findings are published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology.