A colposcopy is a test to look closely at the cervix, the lower womb or the top part of the vagina.

What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a test that looks closely at the cervix, the lower part of the womb and the top of the vagina.

You may have this test:

Having a colposcopy

This test uses a microscope called a colposcope to look closely at the cervix. You usually have the test at a hospital outpatient clinic. It shows any abnormal areas of the cervix and how abnormal these are.

A specialist doctor or nurse will do the colposcopy. The test takes 15 to 20 minutes.

When you are ready, you undress from the waist down. You then lie on your back on an examination couch. Some clinics have couches with foot or leg supports that you can rest your legs up on. You will be asked to lie with your knees bent and apart.

Getting ready for a colposcopy
Image: Getting ready for a colposcopy


The doctor or nurse gently puts an instrument called a speculum into the vagina. This holds the vagina open so that they can see the cervix. It should not hurt but sometimes it can feel uncomfortable.

How a colposcopy is done
Image: How a colposcopy is done

The doctor or nurse puts a liquid on the cervix to show any abnormal areas. They then shine a light onto the cervix and look at it through the colposcope. The colposcope is on a stand outside your body, between your legs or feet.

During the colposcopy, you may be able to see the cervix on a monitor in the room. You can ask to have the monitor turned away from you if you prefer.

Having treatment during colposcopy

Sometimes the doctor or nurse can see during the test that cells on the cervix are abnormal. They may offer you treatment to remove these cells during the colposcopy. Your doctor or nurse will only offer treatment if they are sure the cells are very abnormal, and that there is a risk of cancer developing. If you have questions, or are not sure, the treatment can always be done on another day.

If you need a biopsy

Sometimes the colposcopy shows abnormal cells, but it is not clear how serious the changes are. The doctor or nurse will collect a small sample (biopsy) of the cells. After the colposcopy, they send the sample to a laboratory to be checked under a more powerful microscope. This will show if you need treatment.

The biopsy can cause slight bleeding and you may have some vaginal bleeding for up to 2 weeks. You may be advised not to have penetrative sex, use tampons or go swimming for a few days after a biopsy. This is to reduce the risk of infection and to give your cervix time to heal.

A colposcopy is not usually painful, but if a biopsy is taken you may feel some discomfort. Biopsy results may take 2 or 3 weeks. Ask your doctor or nurse when you will get the results.

If you are worried about having a colposcopy it might help to talk to someone. You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm).

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Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 April 2021
Next review: 01 April 2024

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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