A colposcopy is a special procedure during which your doctor will be able to get a special view of your cervix by using an instrument called a colposcope, which can shine a light onto your vagina and cervix and magnify the view. This allows your doctor to see things that he or she would not normally be able to see without the tool. This page should answer some frequently asked questions and the basics about colposcopy procedures.
WHAT IS A COLPOSCOPY?
A colposcopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to see your cervix at very magnified views. It is performed by first inserting a speculum inside the vagina, which will spread it apart for clear entry. Your doctor will then place the colposcope right outside the vagina, and view the information through a microscope. He or she may then take a sample of tissue from inside, called a biopsy, which will be studied in a lab to check for results.
WHY ARE COLPOSCOPIES PERFORMED?
A colposcopy is often performed when a patient’s pap test results are abnormal and point to cancerous cells. Colposcopies allow for a closer look inside the cervix to see the abnormal cells that showed up as abnormal. However, colposcopies are also used to asses certain conditions such as:
- Cervicitis (inflamed cervix)
- Genital warts on cervix
- Benign growths like polyps
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT DURING THE PROCEDURE?
A colposcopy is performed in a doctor’s office or a special clinic. It is most effectively performed when a woman is not on her period, since the doctor will be taking pictures of the vagina and cervix and it needs to be clean and clear. For the 24 hours before, it is best not to
- Have sex
- Use vaginal medications
- Use tampons
At the office, you will lie on your back on the exam chair with your feet raised and in supports called stirrups. A speculum will be inserted that spreads the vaginal walls so that there is a clear view into the vagina and to the cervix. The colposcope will be placed just outside the vaginal opening. A mild solution will then be applied to the vagina and cervix with a cotton swab, which makes abnormal areas easier to see. If abnormal cells are seen, your doctor may remove a small piece of this abnormal tissue, which is called a biopsy. It will then be sent to be analyzed in a lab.
WHAT IS THE RECOVERY LIKE?
If you have a colposcopy without a biopsy, you should feel fine and be able to do the things you feel like doing that same day. Sometimes will experience slight spotting. If you also had a biopsy performed, your vagina may feel sore for several days afterward, and has dark discharge. You will need to use a sanitary pad, not a tampon, until the discharge stops. It is important to follow your doctor’s directions and to not have sex, not douche, or to not use tampons, until he or she says it is okay.
You should call your doctor if you have the following problems:
- Bad-smelling vaginal discharge
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Severe abdominal pain
WHEN DO I GET THE RESULTS AND WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT?
After the biopsy is taken and studied, your doctor will call you or ask you to come in for an appointment. He or she will discuss the results with you and what they mean. Sometimes, the results indicate that although nothing is wrong yet, you should come in for further tests, or to be tested more frequently. Sometimes, if you are found to have cancer, your doctor will recommend the appropriate course of action.
It is important to get regular pap tests. This will help you stay healthy and make sure everything is going okay. However, if your pap test comes out abnormally, a colposcopy will be an even better way to see if anything is wrong. Talk to your doctor about pap tests and colposcopy.