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Colposcopy is a way to get a close-up look at your cervix. It’s a quick and easy way to find cell changes in your cervix that may turn into cancer.

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What’s a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a type of cervical cancer test. It lets your doctor or nurse get a close-up look at your cervix — the opening to your uterus. It’s used to find abnormal cells in your cervix.

What happens during a colposcopy and biopsy?

You’ll lie down on an exam table like you would for a pelvic exam. The doctor or nurse will put a speculum into your vagina and open it. This separates the walls of your vagina so they can get a really good look at your cervix.

They’ll wash your cervix with a vinegar-like solution. This makes it easier to see abnormal cells. Next they’ll look at your cervix through a colposcope — an instrument that looks like binoculars on a stand with a bright light. The colposcope doesn’t touch you or go inside you.

If your doctor or nurse sees something that doesn’t look normal, they’ll do a biopsy. This means they’ll take a tiny sample of tissue and send it to a lab.

There are 2 types of biopsies: One takes tissue from outside your cervix. The other takes tissue from inside the opening of your cervix. Sometimes you need more than one biopsy.

A colposcopy and biopsy only takes about 5-10 minutes.

Does it hurt?

A colposcopy is nearly pain-free. You might feel pressure when the speculum goes in. It might also sting or burn a little when they wash your cervix with the vinegar-like solution.

If you get a biopsy, you might have some discomfort. Most people describe it feeling like a sharp pinch or a period cramp. You might have a little spotting, bleeding, or dark discharge from your vagina for a few days after a biopsy.

What should I know before my appointment?

You don't have to do much to prepare for a colposcopy. Here are 2 things you can do to make things easier:

  1. Schedule your colposcopy for when you won’t have your period. That makes it easier to see the cervix.

  2. Don’t douche, use tampons, put medicine in your vagina, or have vaginal sex for at least 24 hours before your appointment.

Where can I get a colposcopy?

You can get a colposcopy at your doctor or nurse’s office, some community health clinics, or your local Planned Parenthood health center.