OBJECTIVE: Worldwide, each year, large numbers of women are referred for colposcopy following low-grade abnormal cervical cytology. Many have no visible abnormality on examination. The risk of cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia grade 2/3 (CIN2/3) in these women is low. It is unknown whether, for women, a normal colposcopy resolves the anxiety which often follows the receipt of an abnormal cytology result. We investigated the prevalence of adverse psychological outcomes over 30 months following a normal colposcopy.
METHODS: This cohort study was nested within the UK TOMBOLA randomized controlled trial. Women aged 20-59 years, with recent low-grade cytology, who had a satisfactory colposcopy examination and normal transformation zone, completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and Process Outcome Specific Measure (POSM) at recruitment and during follow-up (12, 18, 24 and 30 months post-recruitment). Outcomes included percentages reporting significant anxiety (HADS anxiety subscale score ≥11), significant depression (HADS depression subscale score ≥8) or worries about the result of the next cytology test, cervical cancer, having sex, future fertility and general health at each time point (point prevalence) and during follow-up (cumulative prevalence).
RESULTS: The study included 727 women. All psychological measures (except depression) had high prevalence at recruitment, falling substantially by 12 months. During follow-up, the cumulative prevalence of significant anxiety was 27% and significant depression was 21%. The most frequently reported worry was that the next cytology test would be abnormal (cumulative prevalence of 71%; point prevalence of ≥50% at 12 and 18 months). The cumulative prevalence values of worries about cervical cancer, having sex and future fertility were 33%, 20% and 16%, respectively.
CONCLUSIONS: For some women who have low-grade cytology, a normal colposcopy does not appear to provide psychological reassurance.