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If you recently had an abnormal Pap test result or if high-risk HPV types 16 and/or 18 were found, a health care provider may recommend a colposcopy.


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What is colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a procedure that looks at any abnormal areas on your cervix and vagina. A specialist (colposcopist) will use a magnifying tool called a colposcope, which looks like a pair of binoculars on a stand. A colposcope allows the specialist to get a close-up look at your cervix.

Who needs a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is usually recommended if: 

  • Your Pap test or cervix self-screening sample found a high-risk type of human papillomavirus (HPV)—HPV 16 and/or 18. Or you have an HPV infection that hasn’t gone away. 
  • Your Pap test found cells on your cervix that don’t look normal, likely caused by high-risk HPV. 
  • You experience symptoms, like bleeding between periods or pain during sex. 
  • You have a history of abnormal screening results.

How should I prepare for my colposcopy?

  • Try to schedule it when you’re not on your period. 
  • The procedure doesn’t require a hospital stay, sedation, freezing or pain medication. 
  • Bring a support person with you.
  • Bring a list of questions to help you remember everything you want to ask.
  • If you have questions, talk to a primary care provider before your appointment.

What happens during the colposcopy?

  1. The exam starts off much like a Pap test: a specialist will use an instrument called a speculum to gently spread the vaginal walls to get a better look at the cervix.
  2. They will place a special magnifying tool, called a colposcope, at the opening of your vagina. The colposcope doesn’t go inside you. A light is then shined into your vagina, and the specialist will look through the lens to see your cervix, as if using binoculars.
  3. Vinegar or iodine solution may be applied to the cervix to help see any abnormal areas. You may feel a mild burning or tingling sensation.
  4. If any areas look abnormal, the specialist may take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) from the cervix for more testing. 
The exam takes about 5 to 10 minutes. You may go home right after it is done. 

What happens after the colposcopy?

You can go about your normal activities afterward. If a biopsy was taken, you might experience mild spotting for 1 to 2 days. If a tampon was used to prevent spotting, make sure it’s removed 3 hours after insertion. If spotting continues, you can use another tampon or pad as needed.

Colposcopy results

Your colposcopy results will be available within 2-4 weeks and a doctor will review them with you as well as discuss any next steps. Please call your health care provider if you do not hear from them after four weeks.

Minor cell changes like CIN1 often correct themselves. Treatment for CIN1 is typically not needed. Your health care provider will explain your colposcopy results and will advise you on any next steps.
Your health care provider will discuss the recommendation for a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP), which can be performed in the colposcopy clinic. If not treated, over time, CIN2 and CIN3 may become cancerous.

Your questions

No, very few people with an abnormal Pap test result or high-risk HPV have cancer or pre-cancerous cells. But, it’s important to go to any follow-up appointments recommended for you. Attending appointments can prevent cervical cancer from developing.
If a biopsy is taken, you may feel a pinch or have some cramping, but it should go away quickly. 

If you’re nervous about the pain or feel pain during the procedure, let the specialist know. They will do their best to make you more comfortable or stop the procedure if you say so.
The risk of complications from colposcopy are small. In rare cases, a biopsy can cause an infection or bleeding. There’s a small chance it can miss abnormalities.

You can find a colposcopy clinic through our clinic locator.

Map of British Columbia with a magnifying glass over it
Colposcopy clinic locator​
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Colposcopy clinics
SOURCE: Colposcopy ( )
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