What Is Colposcopy?

Colposcopy is a way for your doctor to use a special magnifying device to look at your vulva, vagina, and cervix. If a problem is seen during colposcopy, a small sample of tissue (biopsy) may be taken from the cervix or from inside the opening of the cervix (endocervical canal). The sample is looked at under a microscope.

Colposcopy is usually done to look at the vagina and cervix when the result of a Pap test is abnormal. Most abnormal Pap tests are caused by viral infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, or other types of infection, such as those caused by bacteria, fungi (yeast), or protozoa (Trichomonas). Natural cervical cell changes (atrophic vaginitis) related to menopause can also cause an abnormal Pap test. In some cases, untreated cervical cell changes that cause abnormal Pap tests may progress to precancerous or cancerous changes.

During colposcopy, your doctor uses a lighted magnifying device that looks like a pair of binoculars (colposcope). The colposcope allows your doctor to see problems that would be missed by the naked eye. A camera can be attached to the colposcope to take pictures or videos of the vagina and cervix.

Your doctor may put vinegar (acetic acid) and sometimes iodine (Lugol’s solution) on the vagina and cervix with a cotton swab or cotton balls to see problem areas more clearly.

Why It Is Done

Colposcopy is done to:

  • Look at the cervix for problem areas when a Pap test was abnormal. If an area of abnormal tissue is found during colposcopy, a cervical biopsy or a biopsy from inside the opening of the cervix (endocervical canal) is usually done.
  • Check a sore or other problem (such as genital warts) found on or around the vagina and cervix.
  • Follow up on abnormal areas seen on a previous colposcopy. Colposcopy can also be done to see if treatment for a problem worked.
  • Look at the cervix for problem areas if an HPV test shows a high-risk type of HPV is present.

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