How a colposcopy is carried out 

A colposcopy is a safe and quick procedure. However, some women find it uncomfortable and a few experience pain.

Tell the doctor or nurse (colposcopist) if you find the procedure painful, as they will try to make you more comfortable.

A colposcopy is a safe procedure to have during pregnancy.

Before your colposcopy

You'll be referred for a colposcopy if your cervical screening test reveals cervical cell changes, or symptoms such as unexplained pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding need to be investigated. It will usually be carried out in the outpatients department of your local hospital.

If you would prefer a female doctor or nurse to carry out your colposcopy, you can request this by phoning the clinic beforehand. You can also bring a friend, partner or family member to help you feel more at ease.

Phone the clinic if your period is due on the day of your appointment. In some cases, such as if it's your first colposcopy, you may still be able to attend your appointment. However, in other circumstances, such as if it's a follow-up appointment, you may need to reschedule the appointment. You can have a colposcopy if you're pregnant.

Don't have sex or use vaginal medications, lubricants, creams or tampons for at least 24 hours before your appointment. This will make examining your cervix easier.

Take a panty liner to your appointment, as a small amount of discharge can come out of your vagina after the procedure. If a small cell sample (a biopsy) is taken, there may also be some bleeding.

During your colposcopy

The colposcopist will explain the procedure, to help put you at ease.

You'll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on a special couch with your knees bent. Your legs can rest on padded supports. If you prefer, you could wear a loose skirt that can be lifted up without having to take it off.

A device called a speculum will be gently inserted into your vagina to hold it open and allow the colposcopist to take a closer look at your cervix  in the same way your cervical screening was done.

A colposcope is used to examine the cells. It looks similar to a pair of binoculars. The colposcope doesn't touch you it stays about 30cm (12 inches) outside your vagina and allows the colposcopist to see the cells on your cervix on a screen. In some cases, photos may be taken for your medical records.

Your colposcopist may dab different liquids onto your cervix. These stain abnormal cells a different colour, so they can be seen more clearly. You may feel a mild tingling or burning sensation when the liquid is applied to your cervix.

If abnormal cells are found, a small sample of tissue (a few millimetres across) may be taken from your cervix (a biopsy). This shouldn't be painful, although you may feel a slight pinch or stinging sensation. If necessary, you may be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area. The tissue sample will then be sent to a laboratory for testing.

In some cases, treatment may be recommended straight away, rather than a biopsy being done.

Read more about treatment during a coploscopy.

A colposcopy is a quick and safe procedure. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes, but you should allow about an half an hour for the whole visit. Most women find the procedure uncomfortable and some experience pain. Tell the colposcopist if you feel pain and they will try to make it more comfortable for you.

After your colposcopy

You should be able to continue with your daily activities after your appointment, including driving.

For a few days after your colposcopy, you may have a brownish vaginal discharge, or light bleeding if you had a biopsy. This is normal and will usually stop after three to five days.

You should wait until any bleeding stops before having sex or using tampons, vaginal medications, lubricants or creams.

Follow-up appointment 

Following a colposcopy, you should be invited to a follow-up appointment to check that the cells in your cervix have returned to normal. This will usually be four to six months after your colposcopy.

Page last reviewed: 15/12/2014

Next review due: 15/12/2016