What is a Colposcopy?

What to Expect During a Colposcopy

Doctor discussing colonoscopy report with patient.
Colonoscopy for Cervical Cancer. fstop123 / Getty Images

If you have had an abnormal Pap smear, chances are your doctor has recommended that you have a colposcopy. Not to be confused with colonoscopy, a colposcopy is a common follow-up exam to abnormal Pap smears.

What is a Colposcopy?

A colposcopy is an exam that allows the doctor to examine the cervix more closely. The doctor is aided by the use of a colposcope, a lighted instrument that rests outside of the vagina during the exam.

The colposcope magnifies the cervix and somewhat resembles a microscope.

During the exam, the doctor will look into the colposcope and look at the cervix. What the doctor sees through the colposcope may be projected onto a monitor. You are welcome to watch, but it is not required. A colposcopy takes approximately ten minutes to complete.

What Happens During a Colposcopy

During the colposcopy:

  1. You will be asked to undress from the waist down. You will be given a sheet to cover your midsection and thighs. You will then be asked to lay down on the exam table and to place your feet in the stirrups.
  2. The doctor will then place a lubricated speculum into the vagina, just like in a Pap smear. He or she will widen the speculum to view the cervix.
  3. The doctor will then place the colposcope near the opening of the vagina. It is important to note that the colposcope remains outside of the vagina during the exam.
  1. The doctor will then view the cervix and may take a cotton swab to view the outer edges of the cervix. He or she is looking for visual abnormalities.
  2. Next, the doctor will place a vinegar wash on the cervix. Some women feel a slight burning sensation while the solution is being applied. The discomfort disappears within seconds. The vinegar solution will make abnormal cells on the cervix temporarily turn white.
  1. Based on what the doctor finds during the colposcopy, he or she may want to remove a small amount of tissue from the cervix. This is called a cervical biopsy. Most women report feeling discomfort or mild pain while the sample is being taken. A cervical biopsy takes a few seconds to obtain each sample.
  2. The doctor may also want to perform an endocervical curettage (ECC). This is similar to a cervical biopsy, yet a sample is taken from the endocervical canal (passageway between the cervix and uterus). Many women report feeling moderate pain during the ECC, yet it dissipates after it is over.
  3. The doctor may then apply a solution to prevent bleeding from the cervix.
  4. The colposcope is then removed away from the vagina and the speculum is carefully removed. You can sit up when you feel comfortable and begin to dress.

After the Colposcopy

Before leaving the doctor's office, ask the doctor or nurse when you can expect biopsy results and how the office will relay the results. Some offices will automatically schedule another appointment to get results and some prefer to do it by phone, depending on the doctor's policy.

You may experience spotting, vaginal discharge, and cramping after having a colposcopy/biopsy.

Call your doctor if you experience:

  • bleeding through a sanitary napkin in an hour
  • spotting for more than seven days
  • cramping that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain medications
  • fever of 100 F or more or chills
  • bright red bleeding
  • foul smelling discharge


"Special procedures: Colposcopy." American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 18 Aug 2007.

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