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A colposcopy is performed to further examine the cervix. When a Pap screen for cervical cancer is abnormal, the next step is to look at the cervix using magnification. This is the colposcopy. It involves assessing the cervix with a magnifying device called a colposcope.

The colposcope is a magnifying tool with a bright light that is used to see any changes on the cervix that could be a problem. It also can be used for a magnified view of the vulva or vagina, depending on the area of concern.

How is a colposcopy performed?

A colposcopy done in the office and is like the pelvic examination for the Pap smear but is done using a colposcope that sits on a stand and can be adjusted for the needed view. A simple vinegar solution is used to dehydrate the cells of the cervix and remove any mucous, allowing the doctor to select abnormal areas to sample. The samples of the cervix (biopsies) are small and targeted, typically about the size of the top of a grain of rice. Those biopsies define the potential precancerous changes of the cervix.

The biopsies are sent to a pathologist (a doctor specialized in looking at the tissue samples) and a report is generated. This report will be discussed with your provider to determine the next step of your care.

Minor cramping with the biopsy is typical and medication is rarely needed. Bleeding and sensitivity typically last a few days. Once these symptoms pass, you may return to normal activity. Sex, douching, and tampon use can be restarted after about a week.

The colposcopy is a simple but important tool in evaluating your cervix for precancerous changes early. When your pap test is abnormal, expect your doctor to discuss a colposcopy as an important next step in your care.