Colposcopies are used to help diagnose cervical cancer.
A colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure to examine a woman's cervix, vagina, and vulva.
It provides an illuminated, magnified view of these areas, allowing doctors to better identify problematic tissues and diseases, particularly cervical cancer.
Physicians typically conduct colposcopies if cervical cancer screening tests (Pap smears) reveal abnormal cervical cells.
The test may also be used to examine:
- Pain and bleeding
- Inflamed cervix
- Noncancerous growths
- Genital warts or human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Cancer of the vulva or vagina
For at least 24 hours before the examination, which shouldn't take place during a heavy period, you should not:
- Use tampons or any other products inserted into the vagina
- Have vaginal sex
- Use vaginal medications
You may be advised to take an over-the-counter pain reliever just prior to your colposcopy appointment (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen).
Just like with a standard pelvic exam, a colposcopy begins with you lying on a table and placing your feet in stirrups.
A speculum (dilating instrument) will be inserted into your vagina, allowing for a better view of the cervix.
Next, your cervix and vagina will be gently swabbed with iodine or a weak vinegar-like solution (acetic acid), which removes mucus from the surface of these areas and helps highlight suspicious tissues.
Then a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope will be placed near the opening of your vagina, allowing your physician to shine a bright light into it, and look through lenses.
If abnormal tissue is found, small pieces of tissue may be taken from your vagina and/or cervix using biopsy tools.
A larger sample of cells from the cervical canal may also be taken using a small, scoop-shaped instrument called a curet.
Your doctor might apply a solution to the biopsy area to prevent bleeding.
A colposcopy generally doesn't cause any more discomfort than a pelvic exam or Pap smear.
Some women, however, experience a sting from the acetic acid solution.
Cervical biopsies can cause some issues, including:
- A slight pinch when each tissue sample is taken
- Discomfort, cramping, and pain, which may last for 1 or 2 days
- Slight vaginal bleeding and a dark-colored vaginal discharge that could last for up to one week
Unless you have a biopsy, there is no recovery time for colposcopy — you can go on with your normal daily activities right away.
If you have a biopsy during your colposcopy, you may need to limit your activity while your cervix heals.
Do not insert anything into your vagina for at least several days — do not have vaginal sex, douche, or use tampons.
For a day or two after the colposcopy, you will probably notice:
- Light vaginal bleeding and/or a dark vaginal discharge
- Mild vaginal or cervical pain or very light cramping
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following after your examination:
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Severe pain in the lower abdomen
- Fever or chills