Women experience significant emotional distress in relation to further diagnostic evaluation of pre-cancerous cell changes of the cervix. However, less is known about the specific variables that contribute to elevated state anxiety and negative affect prior to colposcopy. The study aims to identify psychosocial factors that predict distress in this patient group, which can help in the development of more sophisticated interventions to reduce psychological distress. Socio-demographic variables, scores for state anxiety, negative affect, trait anxiety, fear of pain, coping style, pain-related expectancy and knowledge were assessed in 164 first-time colposcopy patients immediately before the colposcopy examination. Twenty-six per cent of variance in pre-colposcopy state anxiety was significantly explained by marital status, parity, trait anxiety, fear of minor pain and expectations of discomfort. Twenty-nine per cent of variance in pre-colposcopy negative affect was significantly explained by trait anxiety and expectations of pain. Women who are single, have children, are high trait anxious, and anticipate pain and discomfort appear to be at risk for pre-colposcopy distress. Interventions aimed at reducing pre-colposcopy psychological distress should include situation-specific variables that are amenable to change, and trait anxious women are likely to benefit from interventions to reduce distress.