Pelvic examination and colposcopy

A pelvic examination and colposcopy are often the first tests you have when you go to see a specialist at the hospital. Find out more about them.

What is a pelvic examination and a colposcopy?

A pelvic examination is when a doctor or nurse examines your tummy (abdomen) and pelvis. Your pelvis is the area between your hip bones. The pelvis contains the pelvic organs, including the bladder and lower bowel and the reproductive organs. 

Your doctor will usually do an internal examination as well. They will probably use a speculum and colposcope to see inside your vulva and vagina.

A speculum is a device used to hold the vagina open during an internal examination. It allows the doctor to see the neck of the womb (cervix) clearly.

A colposcope is really just a large magnifying glass that they use to closely examine the vagina and cervix. It doesn't go inside you. But by looking through it, the nurse or doctor can see changes that may be too small to see with the naked eye. They can also take a sample of tissue (biopsy) of any abnormal areas.

Why you have these tests

You have these tests in the outpatient clinic. They are the first tests you are likely to have when you go to the hospital.

They help your doctor work out what is causing your symptoms. Or you might have been referred because you’ve had an abnormal cervical screening result.

During the pelvic examination your doctor is feeling for anything that doesn't feel normal. And a colposcopy is a way of looking at the vulva, vagina and cervix more closely. If your doctor sees an obvious abnormality during the colposcopy, they may treat you there and then.

What happens

To have the colposcopy, you need to undress from the waist down. Your nurse will give you a sheet to cover yourself.

You lie on your back on the couch with your knees bent. Your legs can rest on padded supports. Your nurse will help you to get in a comfortable position.

The doctor or specialist nurse gently puts in a speculum to open up your vagina. Then they look through the colposcope to see the inside of your vagina and cervix. They can take biopsies of any abnormal areas. They send these to the laboratory to be looked at. The examination takes up to 20 minutes. 

The biopsy is usually painless. But some women have crampy pain for a few minutes.

Diagram of a Colposcopy

After your test

You will be able to go home as soon as the pelvic examination and colposcopy is over.

Getting your results

Before you leave hospital make sure you know how you will be given the results. They might ask you to go back to the hospital for an outpatient appointment to see the specialist. Or they might send the results in the post.

If you have any questions about colposcopy you can contact the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Possible risks

Colposcopy is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test. Your doctor makes sure the benefits of having a colposcopy outweigh any possible risks. The risks after having a biopsy during colposcopy include:

  • bleeding
  • infection

You can have a colposcopy if you're pregnant. It is perfectly safe for you and your baby, and will not affect the delivery. It won't affect your ability to get pregnant in future either.

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

Last reviewed: 
23 Apr 2018
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    VT DeVita , TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

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