What Is a Colposcopy, and What Should I Expect?

What Is a Colposcopy, and What Should I Expect?

Colposcopy is a medical procedure that is often recommended for individuals who have abnormal cervical screening results. It is an important step in diagnosing and managing conditions such as cervical dysplasia (changes in the cervical cells) or cervical cancer. Understanding what to expect during a colposcopy can help alleviate anxiety and pave the way for a smoother experience.

What is Colposcopy?

A colposcopy allows a healthcare professional to closely examine the cervix for signs of abnormal cells. It involves using a special instrument called a colposcope, which magnifies the tissues for a more detailed view. During the procedure, the clinician may also take tissue samples (biopsies) for further evaluation.

Reasons for Colposcopy

This procedure is typically recommended if a Pap smear or HPV test indicates abnormal results. These abnormalities may include changes in the cells of the cervix, which may indicate precancerous or cancerous conditions. Colposcopy helps healthcare professionals assess the severity of these changes and determine the appropriate course of action for treatment.

What to Expect

Before the Procedure: Prior to the colposcopy, it is essential to inform your healthcare professional about any medications you are taking, as well as any allergies or medical conditions you may have. You may be advised to avoid using tampons, vaginal medications, or engaging in sexual intercourse for a certain period before the procedure. You might also be advised by your clinician to take an over-the-counter pain reliever in advance of your appointment so that the procedure is as comfortable as possible.

During the Procedure: During the colposcopy, you will lie on an examination table and support your feet in stirrups, similar to a pelvic exam. A speculum will be inserted into the vagina to provide access to the cervix. The colposcope, which remains outside the body, will be positioned near the opening of the vagina to allow the healthcare professional to examine the cervix. A solution may be applied to the cervix to highlight any abnormal areas. If necessary, biopsies may be taken, which may cause slight discomfort or a pinch.

After the Procedure: Following the colposcopy, you may experience mild cramping or spotting, which is normal. It is advisable to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous activities for the remainder of the day. You may also be instructed to refrain from using tampons or engaging in sexual intercourse for a brief period of time. Results from any biopsies taken during the procedure may take several days to become available.


Colposcopy is a valuable tool in the diagnosis and management of cervical abnormalities. While the procedure may cause some discomfort, it is generally well-tolerated and carries minimal risks. Understanding what to expect before, during, and after a colposcopy can help ease any apprehensions and ensure a successful outcome.

For more information on this topic, please read these publications from the ISSM Journals: The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Sexual Medicine Reviews, and Sexual Medicine Open Access:

Cervical Cancer Screening: Past, Present, and Future

Sexual Function after Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure for Cervical Dysplasia


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2020). Colposcopy. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/colposcopy

Mayo Clinic. (2022). Colposcopy. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/colposcopy/about/pac-20385036

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