What Does a Colposcopy Test For?

Reviewed on 10/16/2020
Colposcopy is usually done at a doctor's office or clinic, and it typically takes 10 to 20 minutes.
Colposcopy is usually done at a doctor's office or clinic, and it typically takes 10 to 20 minutes.

A colposcopy is a simple procedure that tests for the presence of

It is most commonly advised after

Your doctor may ask you to do a colposcopy more than once. This is usually done to monitor the results of treatment, such as cancer therapy.

How to prepare before colposcopy?

You should schedule your colposcopy appointment only before or after your periods (never when you are menstruating).

You just need to take a few simple precautions for 2 days before the colposcopy procedure:

  • Do not have sex (vaginal intercourse)
  • Do not use tampons
  • Do not use vaginal creams
  • Do not take an over the counter pain medication

Also, let your doctor know

Certain conditions, such as acute cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix), can cause extreme pain during colposcopy. Hence, the doctor will treat these conditions before going for the procedure.

How is a colposcopy performed?

Colposcopy is usually done at a doctor's office or clinic, and it typically takes 10 to 20 minutes.

Usually, the procedure is not very painful, so it may not need any pain medication or anesthesia. Comfort-wise, it is usually similar to a Pap test.

You are asked to lie on your back with your feet supported on the sides in the same way when you have a Pap test or a pelvic exam.

The doctor will then insert a special instrument (speculum) into your vagina that helps in expanding (dilating) the vaginal opening.

A long tube with a camera (colposcope) is mounted just near to your vulva in such a way that it lights the entire path from inside the vagina up to the cervix. This allows the doctor to visualize your vagina, vulva, and cervix. The doctor then clears the area of mucus or other discharge.

The doctor may apply a solution containing acetic acid or vinegar to your cervix, which may cause a mild burning sensation. This solution highlights the abnormal regions in and around the cervix.

If the doctor finds suspicious areas in the vagina, vulva, or the cervix, they remove a small piece (biopsy) and send it to the laboratory for examination under a microscope. The biopsy results show if the abnormality is due to inflammation, infection, or is precancerous.


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What to expect after a colposcopy?

It is normal to see some vaginal spotting (slight bleeding) for the next 2 days and cramping for a few hours after colposcopy. If the doctor has performed a biopsy, you may additionally

  • Feel pain at the vagina or vulva for 2 days
  • Get a brown or black discharge from your vagina

You can use a pad to soak the bloody discharge. However, do not use tampons and douching for a few days or until your doctor gives a nod.

This is a minor procedure, and the recovery period is very short. You can resume all your routine activities right from the same day as the colposcopy. If you also had a biopsy during colposcopy, you just need to avoid vaginal intercourse for a few days to a week (or until your doctor instructs you to).

A colposcopy is not used to get rid of HPV since it is just a simple procedure to diagnose conditions, such as cervical cancer.

When to call the doctor after the colposcopy?

Usually, colposcopy is a relatively safe procedure with minimal risks. However, you should call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

How long does it take to get the results of a colposcopy?

Usually, the doctor or nurse will tell you the results of the colposcopy right away, but to get the results of the biopsy, you will have to wait for 1-2 weeks.

If the biopsy shows precancerous changes, the doctor will ask you to repeat the Pap test at regular intervals. These changes may go away on their own. If they do not, your doctor will refer you to a gynecological oncologist, who is a doctor specialized in treating cancers of the women’s reproductive system. To treat the precancerous lesions, the gynecological oncologist will discuss various options. Amongst which the most common ones are

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Colposcopy. Available at: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/265097-overview

Colposcopy: How to Prepare and What to Know. Available at: https://www.cancer.net/blog/2019-06/colposcopy-how-prepare-and-what-know

Colposcopy Frequently Asked Questions: Special Procedures. Available at: https://www.acog.org/en/Patient%20Resources/FAQs/Special%20Procedures/Colposcopy

Colposcopy. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/colposcopy

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