During a colposcopy, the doctor uses a special microscope called a colposcope to closely examine the cervix, vagina, or vulva. Generally performed in the doctor’s office, this examination requires no anesthesia, as the colposcope remains positioned outside of the patient’s body at all times. A colposcopic examination takes approximately 20 minutes.

A colposcopy begins much like an ordinary pelvic exam, with the patient’s feet in stirrups and the vagina held open with a speculum. The doctor then washes the area to be examined with a concentrated vinegar preparation that makes some types cells more visible. The light and high magnification that the colposcope provides makes it possible for the doctor to visualize abnormal tissue and collect samples for examination by a pathologist.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that persistent abnormalities of the cervix should be evaluated by a colposcopic examination. If you have an abnormal Pap smear, are experiencing heavy bleeding, have a sore on the vulva, or have reported pain during intercourse, your doctor may recommend colposcopy.

If your mother took the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) when she was pregnant with you, you are at risk for abnormal cervical cell growth, and your doctor may recommend annual colposcopic examinations.


Recommended references:

The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health, by Karen J. Carlson, M.D., Stephanie A. Eisenstat, M.D., and Terra Ziporyn, Ph.D. Harvard University Press (2004).

A Woman’s Guide to Menopause & Perimenopause, by Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., and Carol V. Wright, Ph.D. Yale University Press (2005).