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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 more clearly and under magnification.
If your doctor spots any abnormal areas, they will take a tissue sample (biopsy). The procedure to retrieve a tissue sample from inside the opening of the cervix is called endocervical curettage (ECC). The samples are sent to a lab for examination by a pathologist.
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 minimally uncomfortable.
Your doctor may suggest a colposcopy if:
A colposcopy can be used to diagnose:
There is little to do to prepare for this test. However, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
A colposcopy is usually performed in a doctor’s office and takes 10 to 20 minutes. It requires no anesthetic. Here’s what you can expect:
Some women find the insertion of the speculum uncomfortable. Others report a stinging sensation from the vinegar solution. If you feel anxious during the test, concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths to relax your body.
If you are having a biopsy, how the procedure feels will depend on the location being tested.
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.
The risks following a colposcopy and biopsy are minimal, but rare complications include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.
A colposcopy and biopsy will not make it more difficult for you to become pregnant.
Ask your 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.
If the results show no abnormalities, your doctor may recommend additional testing to see why your Pap smear was abnormal. Or they may suggest a follow-up exam.
A pathologist will examine the tissue samples from the biopsy and look for abnormalities.
Biopsy results may help to diagnose abnormal cervical cells, precancer, 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 of your questions answered. Don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion.
After a 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. Discuss any concerns with your doctor.
Regardless of the results, it’s important to continue regular gynecological exams and Pap smears, as your doctor recommends.
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Mar 17, 2017: Judith Marcin, MD
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