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Colleen M Feltmate, MD
Sarah Feldman, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Barbara Goff, MD
Deputy Editor
Sandy J Falk, MD, FACOG


Colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure in which a colposcope (a dissecting microscope with various magnification lenses) is used to provide an illuminated, magnified view of the cervix, vagina, vulva, or anus (picture 1) [1]. The primary goal of colposcopy is to identify precancerous and cancerous lesions so that they may be treated early.

Colposcopy is performed most commonly of the cervix, and is the main focus of this topic. It is used as further evaluation of abnormal cervical cancer screening tests (cytology and/or human papillomavirus testing).

Colposcopic evaluation is based on the finding that malignant and premalignant epithelium have specific visual characteristics in terms of contour, color, and vascular pattern that are recognizable using colposcopy. The improved visualization of epithelial surfaces with colposcopy compared with gross visual examination enhances the colposcopist's ability to distinguish normal from abnormal areas and to obtain directed biopsies.

The techniques for colposcopy of the female lower genital tract are reviewed here. Related topics are discussed in detail separately, including:

Cervical cancer screening (see "Screening for cervical cancer")

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 26, 2016.
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