What is Colposcopy?
Colposcopy is viewing the cervix, vagina, and external genitals using magnification and a bright light. Using this combination, your clinician is able to examine these areas in closer detail, and differentiate between what is normal and abnormal. This technique can detect abnormal tissue that may be pre-cancerous at a very early stage, when chances for cure are the greatest. Proper diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care are most often very effective in cancer prevention.
Why should I have Colposcopy?
Your clinician may suggest you have a Colposcopy for a number of reasons. These include:
To evaluate an abnormal pap smear. Your pap smear may be reported as abnormal even though your cervix looked normal at the time of your exam. Pap smears are frequently abnormal due to vaginal infection, certain hormone imbalances, or early, potentially precancerous cervical changes (dysplasia) in cells.
To evaluate a cervical lesion or polyp. During a pelvic exam, your health clinician may see an unusual tissue growth on your cervix. This tissue change may indicate a cervical wart (HPV) an irritation, or more seriously, dysplasia.
What will happen during Colposcopy?
Colposcopy is done in the clinician's office with an instrument called a colposcope. As with a pelvic exam, you will lie on your back with your feet raised and placed on foot rests for support. A speculum will be used to hold apart the vaginal walls so that the inside of the vagina and the cervix can be seen. The colposcope is placed just outside the opening of your vagina. The colposcope itself will not come in contact with your body at any time, nor will it cause any discomfort. During the external exam and the vaginal speculum exam, a diluted vinegar solution will be applied to the skin. With the use of vinegar any abnormal tissue usually appear as white areas on the surface of the cervix, vagina, or vulva. After thorough inspection with the colposcope, your health clinician will decide if a biopsy is necessary.
During a biopsy, a very small sample of tissue, about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, will be taken from the white or any other abnormal appearing area. Cells also may be taken from the canal of the cervix. A special device is used to collect the cells. This is called endocervical curettage (ECC). You may feel no discomfort at all or you may feel mild menstrual-like cramps. The tissue samples will then be sent to a lab for further evaluation.
What should I expect during recovery?
If you have a colposcopy without a biopsy, you should feel fine right away. You can do the things you normally do. You may have a little spotting for a couple of days.
If you have a colposcopy with a biopsy, your vagina may feel sore for 1 or 2 days. You may have some vaginal bleeding. You also may have a dark discharge for a few days. This may occur from medication used to help stop bleeding at the biopsy site. You may need to wear a sanitary pad until the discharge stops.
Your health care provider may suggest you limit your activity for a brief time, avoiding strenuous activity for 2-3 days. While the cervix heals, you will be told not to put anything into your vagina for 3-4 days.
- Do not have sex
- Do not use tampons
- Do not douche
Call your health care provider right away if you have any of these problems:
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (using more than one sanitary pad per hour)
- Severe lower abdominal pain
What can I expect following Colposcopy?
A plan for future care is very important following colposcopy. If no biopsy is done a plan for follow up should be formulated before you leave your clinician's office. This frequently entails either HPV testing (Human Papilloma Virus) in 12 months, a repeat pap smear in 3, 6, or 12 months or a repeat colposcopy, depending on your specific medical history.
If a biopsy is done at the time of your colposcopy, your clinician will advise an appointment or send a secure message in approximately two weeks to discuss the biopsy results and options for your individual care.
If colposcopy has been recommended by your health clinician, do not delay your treatment. It is important to your health and wellness now and in the future.
Prior to your appointment:
- Colposcopy should not be done during the time of your menstrual period. Therefore, please determine when your period will be and schedule your appointment appropriately.
- Notify the clinician prior to your appointment if you have a history of heart murmur, mitral valve prolapse, or heart surgery.
- Contact your insurance company to assure payment of procedure.
On the day of your appointment:
- Eat a good breakfast, (e.g. cereal, juice, toast).
- Take two Advil® (or Tylenol® if you cannot tolerate Advil) one hour prior to your appointment in order to reduce cramping.