The Colposcopy Exam: Are There Any Risks?

What You Should Know When Your Doctor Suggests a Colposcopy

A woman at the gynecologist.
A woman at the gynecologist.. Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

An abnormal pap smear can prompt your doctor to advise that you undergo a colposcopy exam. A colposcopy is a common follow-up procedure that allows a doctor to view the cervix more closely. It involves the use of a colposcope which is a lighted instrument that is like a large microscope, allowing the cervix to be magnified.

During a Colposcopy Exam

The exam begins much like a Pap Test, where the patient is lying down on an examination table with feet up in stirrups.

The doctor inserts a speculum into the vagina and opens it slightly to see the cervix. After applying a vinegar solution to the cervix and vagina with a cotton swab (so that the abnormal tissue can turn white), the doctor looks through the colposcope to look at the tissues on the cervix and vaginal walls closely. In some cases, the doctor will take a small sample of tissue (called a cervical biopsy) to be further examined by a lab.

A colposcopy is a painless exam and is usually performed in the doctor's office. Normally, a colposcopy is completed in 30 minutes or less.

Common Reasons For a Colposcopy

The doctor uses the colposcope to diagnose and assist in the treatment of:

  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Non-cancerous growths called polyps
  • Genital warts, a sexually transmitted disease that may suggest infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) which is a risk factor for developing cervical cancer
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure (DES exposure raises the risk for cancer of the reproductive system, but this mostly applies to women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy)

    Risks Associated with Colposcopy

    Risks associated with having a colposcopy include:

    • Vaginal irritation (from the vinegar solution used to turn abnormal tissue white)
    • Bleeding (if biospy is performed)
    • Infection (if biopsy is performed)

    Any allergies or sensitivity to medication, iodine, or latex, should be disclosed to your doctor.

    The same applies if you are pregnant or think you could be.

    There may be other risks based on your condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor before the start of the procedure.

    Certain Conditions That May Interfere With a Colposcopy

    Before the colposcopy is performed, your doctor will give you a consent form to sign that outlines the risks of having a colposcopy and other important information. Be sure to read over the information carefully, and ask questions if you don't understand something.

    How to Minimize the Risk of Infection or Bleeding After Colposcopy

    Your doctor will send you home with a list of instructions. These instructions usually advise:

    • No sex for a specific amount of time after the exam
    • No tampon use
    • No douching or vaginal medications
    • No heavy lifting (more so for those who had a cervical biopsy with colposcopy)
    • No tub bathing for first the 24 hours after the exam

    When to Call Your Doctor

    Call your doctor if the following occurs:

    • Bleeding through a sanitary napkin in the span of an hour
    • Spotting for more than seven days
    • Cramping or lower abdominal pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain medications
    • Fever of 100 degrees F or more
    • Bright red bleeding
    • Chills
    • Foul smelling discharge

    After a colposcopy, it is normal to experience spotting. If a biopsy is done, a thick, brownish discharge can also be expected. Some women experience minor cramping that can be relieved with over-the-counter pain medications.


    Johns Hopkins Medicine. Colposcopy. Accessed January 29, 2016.

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