What is colposcopy?

Colposcopy is an examination of the cervix (lower part of the uterus) and the wall of the vagina. It is performed using a special microscope, called a colposcope, that gives a magnified view of tissue lining the cervix and vagina.

Unlike a Pap test, which scrapes tissue from the entire cervix, colposcopy allows the examiner to take tissue samples (biopsies) from specific areas that do not look normal.

Do I need colposcopy?

Colposcopy is recommended for women who:

  • Have had abnormal Pap test results
  • Have mothers who took "DES" (a female hormone) during pregnancy
  • Have a history of abnormal cells on previous colposcopic exams

What is it like to have colposcopy?

This exam is easily done in a medical office or clinic. It is usually no more uncomfortable than having a Pap test. No anesthesia or pain medicine is needed. The patient lies on her back with her feet in stirrups. An instrument called a speculum is then inserted into the vagina. The examiner then looks through the colposcope, which remains outside of the vagina.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing. If colposcopy shows one or more areas of tissue that do not look normal, small pieces of tissue will be removed and sent to a laboratory to see if cancer or pre-cancer is present. (Pre-cancer, a sign that cancer cells are likely to develop, is also called "dysplasia.")

What if my colposcopy shows cancer or precancer?

Early cases of cancer and precancer can be treated with the loop electrosurgical incision procedure (LEEP) or a cone biopsy. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed to remove part of the cervix or, in some cases, the entire uterus.

Where can I learn more?

NCI Cancer Information Service Hotline: 800.422.6237 (800.4.CANCER)
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): 202.638.5577


© Copyright 1995-2015 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/25/2013...#4044