A normal colposcopy result means a person has no cervical cancer cells, including precancerous ones. Abnormal results may indicate a person has cancerous or precancerous cells in their cervix.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer among women worldwide. More than 4,000 women in the United States die each year from the disease.

Cervical cancer is often asymptomatic in its early stages, which means doctors may find it challenging to detect. Regular screenings in the form of Pap tests can help detect cervical cancer cells and precancerous cells that may eventually become cancerous.

If a Pap test detects abnormal cervical cells, healthcare professionals may recommend a colposcopy.

A colposcopy is a type of test that can detect cervical cancer. It can also determine a person’s risk of developing this form of cancer.

This article details the colposcopy procedure, including how long it might take to receive results and what those results mean.

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A colposcopy is a procedure that allows doctors to examine a person’s cervix closely. A doctor may recommend a colposcopy if a person receives an abnormal result after a Pap smear or Pap test.

During a colposcopy, doctors use a speculum to open the vagina gently. They then insert a microscope into the vagina, allowing them to look more closely at the cervix.

While examining the cervix, the doctor may decide to do a biopsy. During this biopsy, the doctor takes a sample of cervical cells for laboratory testing.

Laboratory testing can determine whether cervical cancer is present or whether a person has an increased risk of developing cervical cancer due to infection with certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Learn about an abnormal smear with a normal colposcopy.

If a healthcare professional does not see anything unusual during the colposcopy, there is generally no follow-up. However, if they find abnormal cells, they may be able to remove them or do a biopsy.

What does a normal result mean?

A normal result means the coloscopy did not detect cancer or precancerous cells.

Someone can have a normal colposcopy result despite having HPV.

Learn whether it is necessary to have a colposcopy with HPV.

What does an abnormal result mean?

An abnormal colposcopy result is when doctors find abnormal cervical cells. If the doctor identifies abnormal cells during the colposcopy procedure, they will likely do a biopsy to determine whether these cells are cancerous. However, this is rare.

A more likely outcome with an abnormal result is that the test found precancerous cells, such as:

  • cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN)
  • cervical glandular intra-epithelial neoplasia (CGIN)

Learn more about a biopsy for cervical cancer.

After analyzing a sample of cervical cells, doctors can determine a person’s risk of cervical cancer.

If the results show that a person has cervical cancer, the next step is to talk with a cancer specialist about possible treatment options, such as:

If the results indicate precancerous CIN or CGIN cells, doctors will assess the risk and recommend next steps:

CIN1low riska follow-up cervical smear test, or colposcopy, to check the cells
CIN2medium riska follow-up colposcopy to check the cells or treatment to remove them
CIN3high riska treatment to remove the cells
CGINhigh riska treatment to remove the cells

Learn more about cervical cancer

If a person has had a biopsy, their doctor can guide them through their specific biopsy results.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend further testing after a colposcopy since some evidence suggests colposcopy results are not always reliable.

A 2022 study suggests that colposcopies have a 66.67% chance of detecting CIN2 cells and a 73.73% chance of detecting their absence.

Data also suggests that colposcopy testing can fail to detect cervical cancer in 13–69% of women. This may be due to the need for further training in interpreting the images and misinterpretation of the patterns.

Learn more about cervical screening.

Some people may experience complications from a colposcopy, including:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • anxiety
  • pain or cramping

If a person is worried about getting a colposcopy, it may help to discuss their anxieties with their doctor.

Find out whether a colposcopy hurts.

Aside from support from family, friends, and loved ones, several organizations can provide cervical cancer-related support.

The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) may be able to provide:

  • information about cervical cancer and cervical cancer testing
  • inexpensive or free cervical cancer testing
  • support for people with cervical cancer and their caregivers.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) also provides more general cancer support, including a 24/7 helpline, free transport to treatment, and free lodging during treatment.

Cancer resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for cancer, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?

A colposcopy is when doctors use a speculum and microscope to examine someone’s cervix. They might also perform a biopsy, removing cervical cells for laboratory testing.

Laboratory tests might come back with the result that someone has cervical cancer or is at a higher risk of developing it.

However, it is very rare to identify cervical cancer from a colposcopy. Always talk with a doctor or another healthcare professional about any concerns.