Colposcopy vs LEEP: What’s the Difference?

Colposcopy vs LEEP

When it comes to evaluating and treating cervical abnormalities, both Colposcopy and Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) are commonly used medical techniques.

These two procedures may seem similar to those who are unfamiliar, but they actually have distinct goals, and methodologies, and play different roles in the patient’s journey towards health.

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between two medical procedures, Colposcopy and LEEP. We aim to help you understand what each involves, how they’re used to treat cervical abnormalities, and where they fit in your healthcare journey.

Colposcopy (kol-POS-kuh-pee) is a diagnostic procedure that gynecologists use to closely examine the cervix, vagina, and vulva for any signs of disease. During colposcopy, your doctor will use a special instrument called a colposcope.

A colposcopy is often recommended when results from cervical cancer screening tests, like a Pap smear or an HPV test, indicate abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

It can also be performed if the cervix appears abnormal to the doctor during a pelvic exam. The procedure is generally safe and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. During a colposcopy, the doctor may also perform a biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of tissue for further testing under a microscope.

You might feel a bit anxious before your colposcopy exam, but don’t worry Knowing what to expect during the procedure can help you feel more comfortable.

Why it's done

Colposcopy is typically done to investigate abnormal Pap test results or to closely examine any visible abnormalities in the cervix, vagina, or vulva. It may also be recommended as a follow-up after an HPV test has come back positive.

Colposcopy can be used to diagnose:

  • Cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix)
  • Vulvar precancerous changes
  • Cervical tissue precancerous changes
  • Genital warts
  • Vaginal tissue precancerous changes

How you prepare

To get ready for your colposcopy, your doctor might suggest a few things:

  • Try to avoid scheduling your colposcopy during your period
  • If you’re using any vaginal medications, it’s best to stop using them two days before your colposcopy
  • It’s a good idea to skip vaginal intercourse a day or two before your colposcopy
  • You should also avoid using tampons for a day or two before your colposcopy
  • You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) before heading to your colposcopy appointment.

Procedure and Equipment of Colposcopy

The colposcopy procedure is usually performed in a doctor’s office and doesn’t require any special preparations.

You’ll lie on a table with your feet in support, similar to having a Pap test. The doctor will then insert a speculum into your vagina to get a clear view of your cervix and vagina.

A colposcope — an instrument that acts like a magnifying lens — is used to examine these areas. The colposcope doesn’t touch you. It’s positioned near your vulva and gives the doctor a lighted, magnified view of the tissues of the vagina and the cervix.

The doctor will apply a vinegar-like solution to your cervix and vagina with a cotton ball or a swab. This solution makes any abnormal areas easier to see. It may cause a burning or tingling sensation.

If your doctor finds a suspicious area, a biopsy may be done. During a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope. You might feel a pinch or a cramp for a moment during the biopsy.

After the procedure, you may have a brownish discharge, or light bleeding if a biopsy was done. It’s normal and will usually stop within a few days. Your doctor will discuss what they observed during the colposcopy and what you can expect next.

How long does Colposcopy take?

The duration of a colposcopy can vary slightly, but it usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes to perform. This doesn’t include the time taken for preparation and consultation, so you can expect the entire appointment to last around an hour.

Why you may need a Colposcopy

Your healthcare provider might recommend a colposcopy in various conditions. Here are a few common reasons why they might suggest it:

. Abnormal Pap Test: This is the most common reason for a colposcopy. If your Pap test results are abnormal, it means that some cells in your cervix do not look normal. An abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean you have cancer. A colposcopy can help your doctor find out if the abnormal cells are a sign of cancer or a condition that may become cancer.

. HPV Positive: The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. If you have tested positive for HPV, your doctor may suggest a colposcopy to check for any signs of cancer.

. Unexplained Vaginal Bleeding: If you have unexplained vaginal bleeding, like bleeding after sex, your doctor may recommend a colposcopy to investigate the cause.

. Visible Abnormalities: If your doctor sees abnormalities on your cervix, vagina, or vulva during a pelvic exam, a colposcopy may be ordered for a closer look.

. Follow-up on Previous Procedures: If you’ve had a previous treatment for cervical precancerous cells, your doctor might suggest a colposcopy to ensure that all abnormal tissue was removed and that new abnormal cells have not developed.

Remember, a colposcopy is a safe procedure and is the best way to find and treat problems in the cervix early. It gives us a chance to treat them before they turn into something more serious, like cancer.

Benefits and Risks of Colposcopy


Colposcopy plays a critical role in diagnosing and preventing cervical cancer. Here are some of the key benefits:

. Accuracy: Colposcopy allows for a more detailed examination of the cervix, vagina, and vulva, improving the accuracy of diagnosis.

. Early Detection: It enables early detection of precancerous changes, which can be treated quickly, possibly stopping cancer from developing.

. Biopsy Capability: If abnormal tissues are detected, a biopsy can be performed during the same procedure for further microscopic examination.

. Non-Invasive: Colposcopy is a super convenient procedure that you can have done without any surgery or invasive measures


While colposcopy is generally safe, like any medical procedure, it may carry some risks:

· Discomfort or Pain: Some women may experience discomfort or slight pain during or after the procedure.

· Bleeding or Infection: There’s a minor risk of bleeding or infection, especially if a biopsy is performed.

· False Positives: Sometimes, a colposcopy might show a problem even when there isn’t one, causing unnecessary anxiety or leading to more tests.

· Missed Abnormalities: While rare, there’s also a risk that the procedure might miss some abnormal cells.

It’s important to discuss with your healthcare provider the benefits and risks of colposcopy based on your own health history and situation.

What is a LEEP?

LEEP vs Colposcopy

A Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) is a type of treatment that prevents cervical cancer. It helps treat abnormal cell growth on the surface tissue of your cervix.

It uses a wire loop heated by electric current to remove cells and tissue. Once the doctor removes the tissue, it can be tested for precancerous cells, which is known as cervical dysplasia.

Cervical dysplasia isn’t cancer, but if left untreated, it can eventually develop into cervical cancer over time.

Before the procedure, you are usually given a local anesthetic to numb the area. The heated wire loop is then used to remove the abnormal areas.

Related: What Happens When Scab Falls Off After LEEP?

Why it's done

LEEP can be used to treat different conditions, including:

  • Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN)
  • High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL)
  • Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSIL)
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) related lesions

How you prepare

Before a LEEP procedure, your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions on how to prepare. Here are a few general guidelines you may need to follow:

. Don’t use tampons, douche, or vaginal creams: Try to avoid using any of these products a week before the LEEP procedure. They could potentially mess with your test results.

. Avoid sexual activity: Refrain from having sex the day before and the day of your LEEP procedure to prevent any irritation or discomfort.

. Discuss medications you’re taking: Make sure to inform your doctor about any medications, supplements, or herbs you’re taking. It’s important because they could have an impact on the outcome of the procedure.

. Arrange for a ride home: You’ll be given a local anesthetic before the LEEP procedure, which means you won’t be able to drive afterward. Make sure to have someone pick you up after the appointment.

Procedure and Equipment of LEEP

During a LEEP procedure, you’ll be asked to lie on a table with your feet in stirrups, just like during a pelvic exam.

The doctor will then insert a speculum into your vagina to hold it open, allowing them to clearly see your cervix. A colposcope, a binocular-like machine, will be used to guide the procedure but will not enter your body.

The doctor will apply a solution to your cervix to make abnormal cells more visible. Then, they’ll use a wire loop heated by electric current to carefully remove abnormal tissues.

After the abnormal tissues are removed, they’ll be sent to a lab for further analysis. This can help your doctor understand the extent of the abnormality and decide if further treatment is needed.

After the procedure, you might feel some mild cramping or discomfort but don’t worry, it should go away within a few hours. Light bleeding or discharge is also common after LEEP and may last for several weeks.

It’s important to avoid inserting anything into your vagina, like tampons or douches, and abstain from sexual intercourse for at least four weeks to allow your cervix to heal.

Benefits and Risks of LEEP


. Efficacy: LEEP is an effective way of removing abnormal cells from the cervix, reducing the risk of cervical cancer.

. Quick and Simple: The procedure is usually quick, performed in a doctor’s office, and you can go home the same day.

. Low Recurrence: After a LEEP, the majority of women have no recurrence of abnormal cells.


Like any procedure, LEEP does carry some risks:

· Bleeding and Infection: These risks are minimal but can occur, especially if you have a condition that impedes clotting or healing.

· Impact on Future Pregnancies: In some cases, LEEP can affect future pregnancies. It can cause an increased risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and miscarriage in subsequent pregnancies.

· Recurrence of Abnormal Cells: While rare, it’s possible for abnormal cells to recur after the procedure.

Colposcopy vs LEEP: The Differences

Colposcopy vs LEEP the Differences

Colposcopy and LEEP are both procedures that deal with the detection and treatment of abnormal cells in the cervix. However, they differ in several ways:

. Purpose: A colposcopy is generally a diagnostic procedure, performed to identify any abnormal cells that may be present in the cervix, vulva, or vagina. In contrast, a LEEP is a treatment procedure, performed when abnormal cells have already been identified and need to be removed.

. Procedure: During a colposcopy, a colposcope is used to magnify the cervix and vagina for visual inspection. If needed, a biopsy may be done. In contrast, a LEEP uses an electrified loop to excise abnormal tissues for further examination and to prevent their progression into cancer.

. Invasiveness: While both procedures are minimally invasive, a LEEP is considered slightly more invasive than a colposcopy as it involves the physical removal of tissue from the cervix.

. Risks: Both procedures come with some risks. However, the risks associated with LEEP may be slightly more significant due to its more invasive nature. Some of these risks include bleeding, infection, and potential impacts on future pregnancies.

LEEP vs Colposcopy: Differences in Pain

Both colposcopy and LEEP procedures may cause slight discomfort. During a colposcopy, you may feel a pinch or cramp, especially if a biopsy is performed.

In the case of a LEEP, a local anesthetic is used to numb the cervix which prevents pain during the procedure. However, some women may experience mild cramping or discomfort afterward.

It’s important to remember that your doctor will take steps to minimize your discomfort, and any pain should be temporary.

Colposcopy vs LEEP: What's best for you?

Deciding between a colposcopy and a LEEP procedure is a personal choice that depends on several factors. These include your medical history, the type and extent of the abnormal cells, and whether you plan to have children in the future.

Keep in mind that while both procedures are highly effective, they serve different purposes.

A colposcopy is primarily diagnostic, whereas a LEEP is a treatment procedure. According to studies, 99% of women who had a LEEP had no repetition of abnormal cells in the cervix within a year.

Nonetheless, the LEEP procedure also carries certain risks. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, LEEP has been linked to a higher risk of complications during pregnancy and birth. Specifically, it can lead to premature delivery and low birth weight (< 2500 g).

Don’t worry, both procedures are common and done by qualified healthcare experts. Just follow their advice to stay healthy.


In conclusion, both colposcopy and LEEP are crucial procedures in the detection and treatment of abnormal cervical cells. A colposcopy is mainly a diagnostic procedure, while LEEP is a treatment method used when abnormal cells have been identified.

Each procedure has its unique benefits and potential risks, and the choice between the two largely depends on individual factors. Just like with any medical decision, it’s really important to talk to a professional to figure out the best approach for your condition.


Can I go back to my normal activities after a colposcopy or LEEP?

Yes, you can return to your usual activities after both a colposcopy and a LEEP. With a colposcopy, you might experience some spotting or light bleeding but should otherwise feel normal. After a LEEP, you might need to restrict activities like heavy lifting or exercise for about a week, and abstain from sexual intercourse or inserting anything into the vagina for at least four weeks.

Will I experience bleeding after a colposcopy or LEEP?

Yes, bleeding can occur after both procedures. For a colposcopy, especially if a biopsy is taken, spotting or light bleeding is common. In the case of a LEEP, light bleeding or discharge is also common and may last for a few weeks.

How often do I need to have these procedures done?

Usually, if a colposcopy or LEEP procedure reveals no abnormal cells, you may only need to have a follow-up pap smear in a year. However, if abnormal cells are detected, you might need to repeat the procedure or have more frequent screenings.

Can I still get pregnant after having a LEEP?

Yes, you can still get pregnant after having a LEEP procedure. However, the procedure may slightly increase the risk of certain pregnancy complications like preterm birth or having a baby with low birth weight.



The information provided in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Don’t ignore professional medical advice or put off seeking it just because of something you read here. Although we aim to offer precise and current information, we do not guarantee its completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability for any purpose. Using the information in this document is at your own risk. We are not responsible for any losses or damages caused by our content.

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