What Is a Colposcopy?
(kol-POS-kuh-pee) is a method of examining the cervix, vagina, and vulva with a
surgical instrument called a colposcope. The procedure is usually performed if
the results of your Pap smear (the screening test used to identify abnormal
cervical cells) are unusual. A colposcope is a large, electric microscope with
a bright light that enables your doctor to see your cervix clearly.
doctor spots any abnormal areas, they will take a tissue sample (biopsy). The
procedure to retrieve a tissue sample from inside the cervix is called
endocervical curettage (ECC). The samples are sent to a lab for examination by
You may feel
nervous if your doctor orders a colposcopy, but understanding the test and
knowing what to expect can ease your anxiety. The test is generally quick and
Why Is a Colposcopy Performed?
may suggest a colposcopy if:
- your Pap smear results are
- you experience bleeding after
- you have an abnormal growth on
your reproductive organs
can be used to diagnose:
- precancer or cancer of the cervix,
vagina, or vulva
- genital warts
- inflammation of the cervix
How Do I Prepare for a Colposcopy?
little to do to prepare for this test. However, here are a few things you
should keep in mind:
- Ask your doctor to explain the
test in detail.
- Tell your doctor if you think you
may be pregnant.
- Schedule the test for a time when
you are not menstruating heavily. Light bleeding at the beginning or end of
your period is usually fine, but check with your physician.
- Do not douche, use tampons, or
have sexual intercourse for 24 to 48 hours prior to the exam.
- Some doctors recommend a mild
over-the-counter pain reliever before the test. Discuss this with your doctor
prior to the test day.
- For comfort, empty your bladder
and bowels before the test.
How Is a Colposcopy Performed?
is usually performed in a doctor’s office and takes 10 to 20 minutes. It
requires no anesthetic. Here’s what you can expect:
- You’ll lie on your back on a table
with your feet in stirrups, just like during a pelvic exam or Pap smear.
- Your doctor will position the
colposcope a few inches away from your vulva and place a speculum in your
vagina. The speculum holds the walls of your vagina open so that your doctor
can see your cervix.
- Your cervix and vagina will be
swabbed with cotton and a solution of vinegar to clear away mucus and to
highlight abnormal cells.
- The colposcope does not touch you.
Your doctor may take photographs and biopsy any areas that appear suspicious.
find the insertion of the speculum uncomfortable and some report a stinging
sensation from the vinegar solution. If you feel anxious during the test,
concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths to help relax your body.
Biopsy Accompanying a Colposcopy
If you are
having a biopsy, how the procedure feels will depend on the location being
You may feel
some pressure or cramping, but a cervical biopsy is generally painless.
Most of the
vagina has very little sensation, so you won’t feel pain during a biopsy. The
lower part of the vagina has more sensation and your doctor may use a local
anesthetic before proceeding.
What Are the Risks of a Colposcopy?
following a colposcopy and biopsy are minimal, but rare complications include:
- bleeding that is very heavy or
lasts longer than two weeks
- fever or chills
- signs of infection, such as heavy,
yellow-colored, or bad-smelling discharge from your vagina
- pelvic pain
experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.
and biopsy will not make it more difficult for you to become pregnant.
What Do the Results of a Colposcopy Mean?
doctor when you can expect the test results and follow-up if you don’t receive
the information in a timely manner. The results will help determine if you need
additional tests or treatment.
results show no abnormalities, your doctor may recommend additional testing to
see why your Pap smear was abnormal, or may suggest a follow-up exam.
Abnormal Biopsy Results
will examine the tissue samples from the biopsy, looking for abnormalities.
biopsy results may help to diagnose cancer and other treatable conditions. Your
doctor will make recommendations based on the results of colposcopy and biopsy.
Schedule time with your doctor to have all your questions answered and don’t
hesitate to seek a second opinion.
What Happens After a Colposcopy?
colposcopy, you may have dark vaginal discharge for up to three days and some
bleeding for up to a week. Your vagina may be sore and you may experience mild
cramping. If no biopsy was taken, you may resume normal activity right away. If
you had a biopsy, avoid the use of tampons, douches, vaginal creams, and
vaginal intercourse for a week. You may shower or bathe right away. Any
concerns should be discussed with your doctor.
the results, it is important to continue regular gynecological exams and Pap
smears as your doctor recommends.