Colposcopy (kol-POS-kuh-pee) is a procedure to closely examine your cervix, vagina and vulva for signs of disease. During colposcopy, your doctor uses a special instrument called a colposcope.
Your doctor may recommend colposcopy if your Pap test has shown abnormal results. If your doctor finds an unusual area of cells during colposcopy, a sample of tissue can be collected for laboratory testing (biopsy).
Many women experience anxiety before their colposcopy exams. Knowing what to expect during your colposcopy may help you feel more comfortable.
Why is colposcopy done?
Your doctor may recommend colposcopy if a Pap test or pelvic exam revealed abnormalities. Colposcopy can be used to diagnose:
a. Cervical cancer
b. Genital warts
c. Inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis)
d. Precancerous changes in the tissue of the cervix
e. Precancerous changes in the tissue of the vagina
f. Precancerous changes of the vulva
g. Vaginal cancer
h. Vulvar cancer
Risks of Colposcopy
Colposcopy is a safe procedure that carries very few risks. Rarely, complications can occur, including:
a. Heavy bleeding
c. Pelvic pain
When should you call your doctor? (509) 628-8866
Signs and symptoms that may indicate complications include:
a. Bleeding that is heavier than what you typically experience during your period
d. Severe abdominal pain
Call your doctor if you experience any of these signs and symptoms after your colposcopy. (509)628-8866
How do you prepare for your colposcopy?
To prepare for your colposcopy, your doctor may recommend that you:
a. Don't have vaginal intercourse the day or two before your colposcopy.
b. Don't use tampons the day or two before your colposcopy.
c. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others)an hour before coming to your colposcopy appointment.
Notify your doctor if you:
a. Are or might be pregnant. A pregnancy urine test may be done before your colposcopy. Colposcopy is safe during pregnancy. If cervical biopsy is needed during a colposcopy, the chance of any harm to the pregnancy (such as miscarriage) is very small. You may have more bleeding from the biopsy when you are pregnant. A colposcopy may be repeated just prior to delivery and at 8 weeks after your delivery.
b. Are taking any medications.
c. Are allergic to any medications.
d. Have had bleeding problems or take blood thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin).
e. Have been treated for a vaginal, cervical or pelvic infection.
Coping with anxiety before your colposcopy
Many women experience anxiety as they wait for their colposcopy exams. Anxiety can make you feel generally uncomfortable. You may find it hard to concentrate, and you may have difficulty sleeping. Women who are very anxious about their colposcopy may experience more pain during the procedure than those who find ways to control and manage their anxiety. Women with high anxiety levels are also more likely to skip their colposcopy appointments.
Accept that you'll feel some anxiety as you wait for your appointment, and find ways to cope. For instance:
a. Write down any questions or concerns you have about the procedure, and ask your doctor to review them with you before your colposcopy begins.
b. Find activities that help you relax, such as exercise, meditation, and being with friends and family.
c. Consider bringing a portable electronic device, such as IPOD, IPAD, Kindle or MP3 player, to your colposcopy appointment. It is OK if you listen to music quietly or use your device during the exam. Women may experience less pain and anxiety if they listen to music during colposcopy.
What you can expect
During the colposcopy
a. Colposcopy is usually done in a doctor's office and the procedure typically takes 10 to 20 minutes. You'll lie on your back on a table with your feet resting in supports, just as during a pelvic exam or Pap test.
b. The doctor places a speculum in your vagina. The speculum holds open the walls of your vagina so that your doctor can see your cervix.
c. Your doctor positions the special magnifying instrument, called a colposcope, a few inches away from your vulva. A bright light is shown into your vagina and your doctor looks through the lens, as if using binoculars.
d. Your cervix and vagina are swabbed with cotton to clear away any mucus. Your doctor may apply a solution of vinegar or another type of solution to the area. This may cause a slight burning or tingling sensation. The solution helps highlight any areas of suspicious cells.
During the biopsy
If your doctor finds a suspicious area, a small sample of tissue may be collected for laboratory testing. To collect the tissue, your doctor uses a sharp biopsy instrument to remove a small piece of tissue. If there are multiple suspicious areas, your doctor may take multiple biopsy samples.
What you feel during a biopsy depends on what type of tissue is being removed:
a. Cervical biopsy. A cervical biopsy won't hurt, but you may feel some pressure or cramping.
b. Vaginal biopsy. Most of the vagina has little sensation and you won't feel pain during the biopsy. But a biopsy of the lower portion of the vagina or the vulva can cause pain, so your doctor may administer a local anesthetic to numb the area. Your doctor may apply a chemical to the biopsy area to limit bleeding.
After the colposcopy
a. If your doctor didn't take a biopsy sample during your colposcopy, you won't have any restrictions on your activity once your exam is complete. You may experience some spotting or very light bleeding from your vagina in the next day or two.
b. If you had a biopsy sample taken during your colposcopy, you may experience:
1. Vaginal or vulvar discomfort that lasts one or two days
2. Light bleeding from your vagina that lasts a few days
3. A dark discharge from your vagina. The discharge may be brown, black and mucous or tissue like. This is from the paste used to stop any bleeding from the biopsies. VERY IMPORTANT: Use a pad after your colposcopy, since the paste may stain your clothes.
4. Avoid tampons, douching and having vaginal intercourse for a week after your biopsy.
Before you leave your colposcopy appointment, ask the receptionist to schedule you for your follow up, which should at least be in the following 6 months. You should receive your results within 2 weeks of your colposcopy. If you do not hear from us within 2 weeks, please call and ask one of nurses to see if your results are ready. Call us at (509)628-8866.
The results of your colposcopy will determine whether you'll need any further testing and treatment.