What happens - Colposcopy

You will have your colposcopy in a hospital out-patient department. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes and you can go home the same day.

The examination is done in the same way as a cervical screening test.

Preparing for a colposcopy

At least 24 hours before your appointment you should avoid:

  • using vaginal medications, lubricants or creams
  • having sex
  • using tampons
  • washing inside your vagina (douching)

Try to eat something before your appointment. You can eat and drink as normal.

You might find it useful to bring a panty liner with you. You may have some light bleeding or discharge afterwards.

Contact the clinic before your appointment if:

  • you're having a period - you may need to reschedule your appointment
  • you're pregnant - a colposcopy is safe but you may have to delay treatment
  • you want the examination done by a female doctor or nurse

Bring a friend or relative with you to the hospital if you think it will help. A nurse will be there to provide support. They'll answer any questions you may have.

The colposcopy examination

A colposcopy is done by a specialist called a colposcopist. This may be a doctor or a nurse.

Before the colposcopy examination, the doctor or nurse will:

  • ask you about your medical history
  • explain what a colposcopy is
  • explain treatments for abnormal cell changes
  • explain any risks linked to the treatment
  • ask for your consent

During the examination:

  1. You undress from the waist down - you may not need to remove a loose skirt. You lie down on an examination bed.
  2. A device called a speculum is gently put into your vagina - this is like having a cervical screening test.
  3. A microscope with a light (a colposcope) is used to look at your cervix. This stays outside your vagina. It allows the colposcopist to see the cells on your cervix.
  4. The doctor will use a special dye on your cervix to highlight any abnormal areas.
  5. A small sample of tissue (a biopsy) may be removed for closer examination in a lab. This should not be painful, but you may feel a slight pinch or stinging sensation.
woman on medical chair with doctor performing colposcopy

After a colposcopy

After having a colposcopy you:

  • will be able to go home as soon as you feel ready, usually straight afterwards
  • can return to your normal activities immediately, including work and driving
  • 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
  • should wait until any bleeding stops before having sex or using tampons, vaginal medications, lubricants or creams

If you have had a biopsy, it will be checked in a lab. You'll get your results by post.

Read more about results of a colposcopy

Treatment on the same day

If abnormal cells are obvious, you may be offered treatment to remove the cells immediately. Otherwise, you'll need to wait until you get your biopsy results.

If you have treatment on the same day as your examination, you will need to take things easy for the rest of the day.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you what you need to do after treatment.

You may need to return for follow-up visits. If you do, your doctor or nurse will let you know.

Read more about treatment and post-treatment care

Risks and side effects

A colposcopy is very safe. It should not cause any serious problems.

But some women experience:

  • discomfort or pain - tell the colposcopist if the examination is painful, they will try to make you more comfortable
  • brown or black vaginal discharge - this can be caused by the dye or paste that may be used after a biopsy. It should pass quickly
  • light bleeding - this can occur if you have a biopsy and should pass within 3 to 5 days

Contact the colposcopy clinic if you have:

  • constant bleeding
  • bleeding that's heavier than your usual period
  • smelly vaginal discharge
  • tummy pain

There are additional risks and side effects of treatment to remove abnormal cells.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 30 December 2019
Next review due: 30 December 2022