Colposcopy is a procedure in which a special magnifying device with a light, called a colposcope, is used to visually examine the cervix and vagina.

Parts of the Body Involved

  • Vagina
  • Cervix
  • Vulva

Reasons for Procedure

Colposcopy is usually done when a Pap test is abnormal and a human papillomavirus (HPV) test is positive for certain subtypes. These subtypes place you at an increased risk for developing cancer.

The colposcopy gives more information about abnormal cells that could lead to cancer. The procedure can be used to direct the location of where a tissue biopsy should be done, and it can also be used to monitor treatment of cervix abnormalities. Additionally, colposcopy may be used to make a visual inspection of the cervix, vaginal walls, or vulva.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure


What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

It is best not to do the following for at least 24 hours before the exam:

  • Douche
  • Have sexual intercourse
  • Use tampons
  • Use medicine in your vagina


The cervix may be numbed.

Description of the Procedure

Colposcopy is done in a doctor’s office. As in a pelvic exam, you lie on your back with your feet in stirrups. The doctor inserts a speculum into your vagina, spreading the vaginal walls apart to see the inside of the vagina and the cervix. He or she will place the colposcope at the opening of the vagina and wipe the cervix with a mild "vinegar" solution on a cotton swab. The solution makes abnormal areas easier to see. The cervix and vagina are examined, and photographs may be taken. The doctor may stop and recommend doing a biopsy—the removal of a small sample of abnormal tissue to be examined in a lab. You may feel a slight pinch and cramping.

How Long Will It Take?

About 5-10 minutes

Will It Hurt?

Colposcopy is usually painless, but you may feel a slight stinging from the solution on the cervix and vagina. If you are having a biopsy, you may feel a slight pinch and mild cramping. Taking a few slow, deep breaths can help relieve this.

Possible Complications

If only the colposcopy is done, there are no complications. However, if a biopsy is done, possible complications include bleeding, infection, and fever.

Postoperative Care

If you do not have a biopsy, you will probably feel fine after the colposcopy and can do your normal activities. You may have light bleeding for a couple of days.

If you have a biopsy, you may feel sore for a day or two, and you may have bleeding. You may also have a dark discharge from the medicine used to stop bleeding where the tissue 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, have sex, or douche.


The doctor will talk with you about what he or she saw. Results from a biopsy should be ready in one week. The results will determine whether you need further testing or treatment.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Fever, chills
  • Severe pain
  • Bad-smelling vaginal discharge


The American Academy of Family Physicians

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists


The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Women's Health Matters


Colposcopy. National Women’s Health Information Center website.Available at: Accessed March 16, 2004.

Colposcopy (patient education pamphlet). American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 2000.

Colposcopy: patient information. Louisiana State University Health Science Center website. Available at: Accessed March 16, 2004.

Last reviewed January 2008 by Jeff Andrews, 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.

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