Treatments and tests

Colposcopy

  • A colposcopy is a procedure to check the cervix for unhealthy (abnormal) cells.
  • A colposcope, the instrument used during the procedure, looks like a pair of binoculars mounted on a stand. It is used to magnify the cervical area. It does not touch the body.
  • A colposcopy may take up to 20 minutes and it’s good to allow up to an hour for the duration of the appointment.
When is a colposcopy needed?

A colposcopy is usually done when you have a 'higher risk' Cervical Screening Test result. This means you have a type of human papillomavirus (HPV) and possible changes to the cells of the cervix that need further investigation. This does not mean you have cervical cancer.

How do you prepare for a colposcopy?

As you prepare for your colposcopy it’s good to remember that a colposcopy gives the specialist a chance to determine if treatment of abnormal cervical cells is needed. Having a colposcopy does not mean you have cancer.

It might be helpful to take a panty liner to your appointment and bring someone with you for support. 

If your period is due on the day of your appointment, please call the clinic to discuss.

What happens during a colposcopy?

A colposcopy may take up to 20 minutes and it’s good to allow up to an hour for the duration of the appointment.

A colposcopy is done in a clinic. It is similar to a Cervical Screening Test where a speculum is inserted into the vagina. It may be a bit uncomfortable but it should not hurt. The specialist will look through a colposcope and apply a special solution to the cervix.

A colposcope, the instrument used during the procedure, looks like a pair of binoculars mounted on a stand. It does not touch the body. It is used to magnify the cervical area and this will highlight any unhealthy (abnormal) cells. A small tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken at this time. The specialist will determine if treatment is needed.

Remember you can ask:

  • the specialist to explain what they are doing
  • the specialist to stop at any time
  • the specialist to be gentle
  • for a male or female doctor.
What happens after a colposcopy?

Following a biopsy some bleeding/dark discharge will occur. This will last for 2-3 days. Do not use tampons or have sexual intercourse until all bleeding/discharge has stopped. Only use panty liners or pads. Contact your healthcare provider if bleeding is heavy or constant.

Remember

  • Sometimes unhealthy (abnormal) cells can develop into cervical cancer if they are not removed.
  • It is important to attend your colposcopy appointment so that the specialist can determine if treatment is needed.
  • You can take a support person with you.
  • You can ask the specialist to explain what they are doing.
  • A colposcopy should not be painful.
  • You can ask the specialist to stop at any time.

Last reviewed: 19-01-2022
Acknowledgements

WA Cervical Cancer Prevention Program


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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