A colposcopy is a close-up exam of the cervix. It is done with a tool called the colposcope. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus.
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Reasons for Procedure
Colposcopy is usually done after one of the following:
- Pap test is abnormal
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) test is positive for certain subtypes that place you at an increased risk for developing cancer
The exam can help 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 sexual intercourse
- Avoid using medication or creams in your vagina
The cervix may be numbed with a local anesthetic. It may not be needed.
Description of the Procedure
It will start like a regular pelvic exam. A device called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina. The speculum will gently spread apart the vaginal walls. The scope will be placed at the opening of the vagina. Then, the cervix will be wiped with a solution. This will make it easier to see abnormal areas. The cervix and vagina will be examined closely. A small sample of tissue may also be taken. Once the doctor is done the scope will be removed. Then the speculum will be closed and removed.
How Long Will It Take?
About 5-10 minutes
How Much Will It Hurt?
It is usually painless. You may feel a slight pinch and mild cramping if a sample is removed.
If a sample was removed:
- 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. Your doctor will talk to you about next steps which may include other tests or treatment.
If a sample was not taken, you can return to normal activities.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
- Heavy bleeding
- Fever, chills
- Severe pain
- Bad-smelling vaginal discharge
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Practice Bulletin No. 140: management of abnormal cervical cancer screening test results and cervical cancer precursors. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;122(6):1338-1367.
Cervical cancer—colposcopy. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/diagnosis-tests/colposcopy.html. Updated October 2017. Accessed December 13, 2017.
Colposcopy. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq135.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121219T1514556583. Updated April 2015. Accessed December 13, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG Last Updated: 6/12/2018