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About colposcopy

What is colposcopy?

Colposcopy is an examination to take a closer look at your cervix. It checks to see if there are cell changes and is done by a specially trained nurse or doctor called a ‘colposcopist’.

Colposcopy normally happens in a hospital or local clinic. A colposcopy appointment usually takes 10–20 minutes. It might be longer depending on what happens during your appointment.

Many cell changes go away on their own, but some may turn into cervical cancer. Colposcopy helps find out whether changed cells need to be removed to stop cervical cancer from happening.


What happens during a colposcopy appointment?

At colposcopy, the colposcopist looks at your cervix using a special microscope on a stand with a light. This is a ‘colposcope’. It stays outside your body.

Your colposcopist will place a speculum into your vagina to see your cervix clearly — just like at cervical screening (previously called a ‘smear test’). They will then put some liquids onto your cervix. These liquids help to show areas where cells might have changed.

Taking a biopsy

Your colposcopist may do a tissue test called a ‘biopsy’. This is where a sample of tissue is taken from your cervix. The sample is smaller than a grain of rice. It is then looked at in a laboratory to see if there are cell changes.

Some people find a biopsy uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. You're in control and if it hurts, you can ask your colposcopist to stop. It’s possible to have the area numbed before a biopsy. If this would make you feel more comfortable, contact your hospital or clinic before your appointment.


Sometimes, cell changes can be seen during your appointment. You might be offered treatment to remove the changed cells and for it to happen on the same day as your colposcopy. You may be invited for another appointment on a different day. This decision will be made by you and your colposcopist. Any treatment offered will be explained to you before and only done if you agree to have it.

If treatment is offered to you on the same day as your colposcopy, it’s okay to ask for time to think and to ask for it to happen at another appointment.

Read more about colposcopy appointments >


Why have I been invited to colposcopy?

If this is your first colposcopy appointment

You’re usually invited for colposcopy after cervical screening for one of these reasons:

  • your cervical screening result shows both high-risk HPV and that there are cell changes
  • you don’t have cell changes, but you’ve had 3 cervical screening results in a row that show high-risk HPV
  • you’ve had several cervical screening tests which all gave an unclear result
  • the nurse or doctor who did your cervical screening wanted a colposcopist to have a closer look at your cervix for a second opinion.

Read more about HPV >

Read more about cervical cell changes >

Read more about cervical screening >


You may also be referred for colposcopy because:

  • you’ve had unusual bleeding from your vagina that isn’t your period (such as bleeding after sex or after menopause)

Read more about colposcopy appointments >

Read more about cervical cancer symptoms >


If this is your second or follow-up colposcopy appointment

You could be going to a second or follow-up colposcopy appointment if:

  • a biopsy from your cervix was done during your first colposcopy appointment and it shows you need treatment
  • you’ve been invited back for a further check-up after your first colposcopy appointment
  • you have CIN2 cell changes and these are being checked.

Read more about colposcopy appointments >

Read more about cervical cell changes >


What should I do before colposcopy?

  • Contact the hospital or clinic when you get your appointment if:
    • you think you’ll be on your period on the day of your appointment — you may still be able to have colposcopy, but sometimes it will need to be rearranged
    • you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant — it’s advised that you still go to colposcopy if you’re pregnant, but any biopsies or treatment may happen a few months after you give birth
    • you would like a doctor or nurse of a particular gender to do the colposcopy — your hospital or clinic will tell you if this can be done
    • you would like to bring a friend, partner or relative with you to make you feel comfortable — the hospital or clinic will let you know if this is possible
  • Some hospitals and clinics may advise not to have penetrative vaginal sex or use vaginal medications, creams, lubricants, tampons or menstrual cups for 48 hours before your appointment. If you’re unsure about what you can or can’t do before colposcopy, it is best to contact the hospital or clinic
  • You may want to bring a sanitary pad or pantyliner with you. It’s common to have some discharge (a liquid that comes out of your body) or light bleeding (spotting) from your vagina after colposcopy.

Read more about colposcopy appointments >


Information and support

You may feel worried about colposcopy or might be unsure about whether you need to do anything before your appointment. There are lots of places to get support.

If you have a specific question about your colposcopy appointment, it’s best to ring the hospital or clinic where your appointment is happening. They can talk you through everything you need to know. There will also be time during your appointment for you to ask questions. 

We’re here to support you too:

  • We answer some common questions about colposcopy on our Colposcopy FAQs page
  • If you have general, non-medical questions about colposcopy, or just want to talk, we’re here for you. Call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000 — our opening hours are here
  • Sometimes it can help to connect with others who are going through or who have gone through the same experience. On our online Forum, you can write a post or just read what others are talking about.

We would like to thank all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 


We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >


What happens at colposcopy? >

Find out what to expect at a colposcopy appointment.

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Date last updated: 
11 Sep 2023
Date due for review: 
11 Sep 2026
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