What is colposcopy?

Colposcopy (kol-POS-koh-pee) is a way of looking at the tissues of a woman's cervix and vagina, using a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope (KOL-poh-skope).

Why is it used?

Colposcopy lets the doctor or nurse get a close look at any areas of the cervix or vagina that might be inflamed or beginning to develop abnormal cells. This helps the doctor or nurse decide if a biopsy (BYE-op-see) the removal of a small piece of tissue for examination is needed, using the colposcope to see where the tissue sample should be taken from.

Who can do colposcopy?

Colposcopy requires special training, experience and equipment. If your doctor is not prepared to do colposcopy, he or she will refer you to a specialist. The specialist may be a doctor or a nurse trained in colposcopy.

When is colposcopy done?

Your doctor may recommend that you have colposcopy if:

  • You have a Pap smear that shows some abnormal cells.
  • You have an irritated area on your cervix or vagina.
  • You are having unexplained cervical or vaginal bleeding.
  • Your mother took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while she was pregnant with you. The daughters of women who took DES during pregnancy are at greater risk of developing certain kinds of vaginal and cervical cancer.

If your doctor recommends colposcopy, it does NOT mean that you have cancer. The cells in the vagina and cervix can show changes from infections or other irritations. Usually, once these conditions have been treated, the cells go back to normal. If a biopsy shows that precancerous cells are present, there are several treatments available to remove them before they can spread.

What is the exam like?

Do not have intercourse, use spermicidal jelly, vaginal medication, douches, or tampons for 24 hours before having a colposcopy. You will lie back on the examining table in the same way you do for a pelvic exam. A speculum (SPECK-you-lum) , an instrument used to hold open the vagina for examination, will be placed in your vagina. A mild vinegar solution will be used to clean and dry the surface of the cervix and vagina. Then the colposcope, which looks like a pair of binoculars on a stand, will be positioned so the doctor or nurse can examine your cervix and vagina.

The colposcope never touches your body, so colposcopy itself doesn't hurt at all. If you have a biopsy done during colposcopy, you may feel a quick pinch while the tissue sample is being taken. Colposcopy usually takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. It can be done in a doctor's office or in a hospital's outpatient clinic.

The colposcope may be equipped with a camera so that the doctor or nurse can take pictures of the vagina and cervix. These pictures are kept in your medical record and used to keep track of any changes that occur in your vaginal or cervical tissues over time.

Will there be bleeding after a colposcopy?

You may have a dark vaginal discharge after the colposcopy. If your doctor took a biopsy sample during the colposcopy, a thick yellow paste was put on that area to stop the bleeding. When this paste mixes with blood, it may make a black fluid (discharge) . It's normal to have this discharge for a couple of days after the procedure. It's also normal to have a little spotting for at least two days after a colposcopy.

When should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following problems:

  • heavy vaginal bleeding (using more than one sanitary pad per hour);
  • lower abdominal pain;
  • fever or chills.

Can I use tampons after the procedure?

No. Don't use tampons and don't put anything in your vagina for two days or until your doctor tells you it's safe. Don't have sexual intercourse for two days following the colposcopy.

If a biopsy has been performed, make an appointment with your doctor after the colposcopy to discuss the results and the treatment that is planned. Usually it takes one to two weeks for the doctor to get a report from the pathologist who looks at the biopsy tissue. Talk with your doctor if you have more questions.

To learn more about colposcopy, contact the toll-free Cancer Information Service at:

  • 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)

State of New York
Department of Healt

Publication 0413
Version 6/02