What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a women’s health procedure that allows your doctor to see the tissue of your cervix to identify signs of disease or abnormal cells. The exam is done with a tool called a colposcope, which shines a bright light on the cervix and allows for a magnified view.

Why would your doctor recommend a colposcopy?

Your doctor may recommend a colposcopy if you have an abnormal Pap smear. They use it to detect whether or not you have cervical cancer or to determine if there’s another reason for your abnormal Pap test.

In other cases, a colposcopy can help your doctor to diagnose problems like:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases, like genital warts
  • Inflammation of your cervix
  • Precancerous cells in your cervix, vagina, or vulva

How do you prepare for a colposcopy?

When you are scheduled for a colposcopy, be sure not to put anything inside your vagina, like creams or tampons, as your doctor needs to have a clear view of your cervix. Also, don’t have vaginal intercourse for a few days before your scheduled procedure.

If you are having a heavy period the day of your procedure, call your doctor to reschedule your appointment.

What happens during a colposcopy procedure?

Many women experience anxiety before a colposcopy procedure, but it’s an easy and nearly painless procedure.

During the procedure, you lie on your back with your feet in stirrups or straps (similar to the process of a Pap test or pelvic exam).

Your doctor inserts a metal speculum into your vagina to open up the vaginal walls and provide a clear view of your cervix. To test for abnormal cells, your doctor may apply a vinegar-like solution to your cervix. It may burn a little, but it will help your doctor see any cells that don’t look normal. Your doctor will then position the colposcope close to your vulva, which shines a bright light directly onto your cervix, giving your doctor a clear view of your vaginal and cervical tissue through a lens. A sample of tissue will be collected to send away for a biopsy. The results will give your doctor an idea of what steps should be taken next.

If your doctor is able to remove all of your abnormal cells during the biopsy, you may not need more treatment.

What happens if the cause of an abnormal pap smear cannot be detected during colposcopy?

If the cause of an abnormal pap smear cannot be detected during colposcopy, your doctor may recommend additional procedures, such as:

Cold Knife Conization (CKC). CKC, also called cold knife cone biopsy, is a procedure in which a cone-shaped piece of abnormal tissue is removed from the cervix using a scalpel or laser knife.

LEEP Procedure. During a LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) procedure, your doctor uses a small electrical wire loop to remove abnormal cells from your cervix.

Some of the tissue is then checked under a microscope for signs of disease, such as cervical cancer.

What can I expect after a colposcopy?

If your doctor takes a sample of tissue for a biopsy, you might feel some tenderness or cramping a few days after the procedure. However, most women can return to their normal activities quickly.

You may also notice some light spotting or bleeding after a colposcopy, but this is normal. Your doctor might advise you to avoid using tampons or having vaginal intercourse for several days to a week after your procedure.

If your doctor sends away tissue for a biopsy, you’ll meet to discuss the results at a separate appointment or over the phone.

This information is provided for informational educational purposes only, and should not be considered as individual medical advice. Please discuss your specific situation with your medical provider.

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