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What happens

A colposcopy is usually carried out in a hospital clinic. It takes around 15 to 20 minutes and you can go home soon afterwards.

Preparing for a colposcopy

  • for at least 24 hours before your appointment avoid having sex or using vaginal medicines, lubricants, creams, tampons or menstrual cups
  • bring a panty liner, as you may have some light bleeding or discharge afterwards
  • you can eat and drink as normal

Contact the clinic before your appointment if:

  • you think your period might arrive around the time of your appointment – you'll usually still be able to have the procedure, but in some cases you may be advised to postpone it
  • you're pregnant – a colposcopy is safe during pregnancy, but a biopsy (removing a tissue sample) and any treatment will usually be delayed until a few months after giving birth
  • you want the procedure to be done by a female doctor or nurse

You can bring a friend, partner or family member with you to the hospital if you think it will help you feel more at ease.

The colposcopy procedure

A colposcopy is carried out by a specialist called a colposcopist. This may be a doctor or a trained nurse.

During the procedure:

  • you undress from the waist down (a loose skirt may not need to be removed) and lie down in a chair with padded supports for your legs
  • a device called a speculum is inserted into your vagina and gently opened – similar to having a cervical screening test
  • a microscope with a light (a colposcope) is used to look at your cervix – this stays outside your vagina
  • liquids are applied to your cervix to highlight any abnormal areas – you may feel a mild tingling or burning sensation when these are applied
  • a small sample of tissue (a biopsy) may be removed for closer examination in a laboratory – this should not be painful, but you may feel a slight pinch or stinging sensation

If it's obvious that you have abnormal cells in your cervix, you may be offered treatment to remove the cells immediately. Otherwise, you'll need to wait until you get your biopsy result.

After a colposcopy

After having a colposcopy:

  • you'll be able to go home as soon as you feel ready, usually straight afterwards
  • you can return to your normal activities, including work and driving, immediately – although you may prefer to rest until the next day
  • you may have a brownish vaginal discharge, or light bleeding if you had a biopsy – this is normal and should stop after 3 to 5 days
  • wait until any bleeding stops before having sex or using tampons, menstrual cups, vaginal medicines, lubricants or creams

Your nurse or doctor may be able to tell you what they've found straight away.

If you have had a biopsy, it will be checked in a laboratory and you'll need to wait a few weeks to receive your result by post.

Read more about results of a colposcopy.

Risks and side effects of a colposcopy

A colposcopy is a very safe procedure that does not cause any serious problems.

You may have some side effects such as:

  • discomfort or pain – tell the colposcopist if you find the procedure painful so they can try to make you more comfortable
  • brown vaginal discharge – this is caused by the liquids used to highlight abnormal cells in the cervix and should pass quickly
  • light bleeding – this can occur if you have a biopsy and should pass within 3 to 5 days

Contact a GP if you have persistent bleeding, bleeding that's heavier than your usual period, smelly vaginal discharge or a stomach ache.