Home > Diagnostic Procedures > What is a Colposcopy?

What is a Colposcopy?

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 17 Jun 2013 | comments*Discuss
Colposcopy; Colposcope; Cervical Smear;

Any woman who has had abnormal cells detected on her cervix will probably know what colposcopy is. Every sexually active woman will have to go for a cervical smear at least every three years. During this examination a sample of the cervical cells is taken and sent for analysis looking for cell changes or abnormalities. If the result of the smear shows that there are either of these two occurrences the woman will be asked to attend a colposcopy examination.


A colposcopy is an investigative diagnostic procedure in which a gynaecologist uses an instrument to take a closer look at the cervix and the entrance to the neck of the womb and perhaps take a small sample or biopsy.

It is usually performed following a cervical smear test that has shown some abnormal cell changes that will need further examination.It can also be used to try and determine unexplained vaginal bleeding or to look for the presence of any polyps.

The Procedure

The patient is positioned often using stirrups with knees apart and special instruments are inserted into the vagina in order to gain a proper view of the cervix.Solutions are applied to the outer surface of the cervix which then show up whether there are any changes in the cells. The area to which the solutions are applied is called the transformation zone and is the primary target area for early stages of cervical cancer.

What To Expect

You will be asked to place your legs into some supportive stirrups and part your knees. A lot of woman are extremely frightening and embarrassed about this but you should remember that these are professionals who do this procedure on a daily basis and are more concerned with finding out if you have any serious problems than what you look like.

The instruments are usually a bit uncomfortable but are not supposed to cause any pain. If you do feel pain it is often because you are contracting your vaginal, leg and back muscles which inhibits the entry of the instruments.

Once the cervix has been identified and the solutions have been applied an instrument called a colposcope which acts like a magnifying glass is placed between the legs allowing the doctor to gain a detailed visualisation of the cervical cells.

Occasionally a biopsy of the cervix will need to be taken which can be carried out after a local anaesthetic is given. The administration of the anaesthetic can be quite sharp but the effect of the anaesthetic is noticed very soon after.

If the colposcopy result is comparable to the cervical smear result the woman will be referred for further treatment which often involves the removal of the transformation zone of the cervix using electrodes. This is a surgical procedure but can be successfully carried out as a day-patient or as a secondary procedure to the colposcopy if there are no other medical problems.

In very modern clinics there is often a facility to record the examination and for it to be shown on a larger screen which can be visualised by the rest of the team and the woman herself. These are very good for teaching purposes and for allowing the doctor to examine the cervix more comfortably with more light.

A colposcopy, although not the most comfortable of procedures is extremely important in detecting the early signs of cancer, essential for successful treatment.

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