What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is test that is used to diagnose cervical, vaginal or vulvar cancer. The test, which uses a special instrument called a colposcope, allows your doctor to get a more detailed view of the cervix, vagina and vulva.

Who is a candidate for a colposcopy?

Your Mercy Health gynecologist may recommend a colposcopy if you had an abnormal Pap smear result.

A colposcopy can diagnose the following conditions:

  • Genital warts
  • Cervicitis (inflammation in the cervix)
  • Changes in the cervix, vagina or vulva tissue that indicate the presence of cancer

What are the risks of a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a safe procedure, but complications can occur. Complications may include heavy bleeding, infection and pelvic pain.

What to expect during a colposcopy?

During a colposcopy, you will lie on a table with your legs spread and feet in stirrups. Your doctor will place a speculum into your vagina to open it. Your cervix will be washed with a solution that makes it easier to see any abnormal cells. 

Once the prep has been completed, your doctor will examine your cervix with a colposcope. A colposcope is a magnifying instrument that shines a bright light onto the cervix. The instrument does not go inside of you. Instead your doctor can adjust the magnification of the colposcope to see the cervix in more detail.

If your doctor sees something suspicious, he or she will perform a biopsy of the cervix or vagina. During the biopsy, your doctor will take a small sample of cells to be examined in the lab. A vaginal biopsy can be painful, so your doctor may apply a local anesthesia to the area before taking cells from this area.

The entire process takes 5 - 20 minutes. 

Recovery from a colposcopy

A colposcopy is performed in a clinic setting. You will be able to go home after the procedure. If you did not need a biopsy, you will be able to return to your normal routine as soon as you leave the clinic. Some patients experience spotting for a couple days after the test.

Patients who have a biopsy taken during the colposcopy may experience side effects such as:
  • Vulvar or vaginal pain that lasts two days or more
  • Spotting for a few days
  • Vaginal discharge

Find a cervical cancer specialist nearby