DefinitionThe 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.
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Reasons for ProcedureColposcopy 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
- Help diagnose cervical cancer or precancerous changes
- Give more information about abnormal cells found on a pap smear
- Find the location where a tissue biopsy should be done
- Monitor treatment of abnormalities of the cervix
- Allow a visual exam of the cervix, vaginal walls, or vulva
Possible ComplicationsComplications 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 ProcedureIn the 24 hours before the procedure, your doctor may advise you to avoid:
- Having sexual intercourse
- Using medication or creams in your vagina
AnesthesiaUsually no anesthesia is needed. In certain cases, the cervix may be numbed with a local anesthetic.
Description of the ProcedureA 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 Long Will It Take?About 5-10 minutes
How Much Will It Hurt?This procedure is usually painless. If a biopsy is taken, you may feel a slight pinch and mild cramping.
Post-procedure CareWhen 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.
Call Your DoctorAfter arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Heavy bleeding
- Fever, chills
- Severe pain
- Bad-smelling vaginal discharge
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.
- Reviewer: Andrea Chisholm, MD
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014