The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb). A special magnifying device with a light, called a colposcope, can be used to visually examine the cervix and vagina.
Female Reproductive Organs
Reasons for Procedure
Colposcopy is usually done when a:
- Pap test is abnormal
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) test is positive for certain subtypes that place you at an increased risk for developing cancer
This procedure can be used to:
Complications are rare. But, no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have colposcopy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
In the 24 hours before the procedure, your doctor may advise you to avoid:
- Having sexual intercourse
- Using medication or creams in your vagina
Usually no anesthesia is needed. In certain cases, the cervix may be numbed with a local anesthetic.
Description of the Procedure
A device called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina. The speculum will gently spread apart the vaginal walls. The inside of the vagina and the cervix will be easier to see. The colposcope will be placed at the opening of the vagina. Then, the cervix will be wiped with a solution. The solution will make abnormal areas easier to see. The cervix and vagina will be examined closely with the colposcope. A long tool may be used to take a sample of tissue from the cervix or vaginal wall.
How Much Will It Hurt?
This procedure is usually painless. If a biopsy is taken, you may feel a slight pinch and mild cramping.
When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery if you had a biopsy done:
- You may need to use a sanitary pad for a few days.
- Do not put anything into your vagina for at least a week.
- Do not use tampons or have sex until your doctor says it is okay.
Results from a biopsy should be ready in about one week. The results will determine whether you need more testing or treatment.
Call Your Doctor
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Heavy bleeding
- Fever, chills
- Severe pain
- Bad-smelling vaginal discharge
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Management of abnormal cervical cytology and histology. Practice Bulletin No. 99. December 2008.
Colposcopy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq135.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121219T1514556583. Published June 2013. Accessed October 30, 2014.
Colposcopy. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/diagnosis-tests/colposcopy.html. Updated August 2010. Accessed October 30, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.