What protects against some women experiencing distress following colposcopy?

CERVIVA researchers have published a new paper on the results of a qualitative interview study among women who underwent colposcopy

A colposcopy is a hospital-based examination that is used to follow-up women with abnormal cervical cytology test (smear test) results. Undergoing colposcopy can be distressing for some women. Research now suggests that some women can experience negative psychological outcomes (e.g. worry) following colposcopy. However, little is known about what leads some women and not others to experience post-colposcopy distress.

Women who underwent colposcopy within the cervical cancer screening programme were interviewed individually by CERVIVA researchers to examine differing experiences of psychological distress. The study also sought to identify possible factors that are associated with, or protective against, distress after colposcopy.

The researchers identified that some women can experience distress following colposcopy while others do not. Two types of distress emerged from the interviews: short- and long-term distress. Short-term distress was distress experienced immediately after the colposcopy and in the days that followed. Long-term distress was distress which persisted for a considerable period of time after colposcopy e.g. weeks or months. The study also provided unique insight into factors related to short and long-term distress. Protective factors for short-term distress were: feeling well-prepared for procedure and being accompanied to the clinic by a friend or family member. One of the protective factors for long-term distress was having been discharged from intensive follow-up at the hospital clinic back into regular cervical screening every 3 or 5 years.

The findings may be used to inform the development of an educational intervention for women aimed at alleviating distress following colposcopy. One approach for an intervention could, for example, be aimed at better preparing women for what the procedure will involve and how it will feel.

The results of the study are published in Women’s Health Issues.

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