How Does a Colposcopy Work?
Sure, it’s a complicated word to spell and pronounce. But a colposcopy is also a beneficial test your healthcare provider may employ to view your cervix—the opening to your uterus—and vagina more closely than is possible during a typical physical exam.
Why might you need this procedure? If problems or abnormal cells are found during a pelvic exam or Pap test, a colposcopy may help your doctor better assess what’s behind any abnormal blood vessels, tissue structure, color, and patterns.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a colposcopy can assist in the treatment of:
- Polyps (noncancerous growths)
- Genital warts (which could suggest infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a risk factor for developing cervical cancer)
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure, which possibly raises the risk for cancer of the reproductive system in women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy
Your healthcare provider may also have other reasons to recommend this procedure, which you can and should discuss with them.
So, What Should You Expect?
A colposcopy is often carried out in a hospital clinic, but it can also be done in the office of your gynecologist or primary care doctor. It takes around 15 to 20 minutes, and there is no extra anticipated time for recovery.
Your healthcare provider may suggest you avoid vaginal sex, using tampons or other products that go into the vagina itself for 24 – 48 hours before the procedure.
Both the NHS.UK and Johns Hopkins Medicine help to further break down the colposcopy procedure in these ways:
- You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie down in a chair with padded supports for your legs
- Empty your bladder before the procedure
- A device called a speculum will be inserted into your vagina and gently opened to expose your cervix – similar to having a cervical screening test
- The colposcope (a microscope with a light on the end) will be positioned to look at your cervix. It does not go into your vagina
- If necessary, your health care provider may wash your cervix with a vinegar solution to highlight any abnormal areas. A Schiller test (involving an iodine solution) may also be conducted at this time. You may feel a mild tingling or burning sensation when either of these solutions are applied
- If necessary, a small sample of tissue (a biopsy) may be removed for closer examination in a laboratory. This should not be particularly painful. You may feel a pinch or stinging sensation, which could also cause brief cramping afterward.
Post-Biopsy and Post Procedure
“If a biopsy taken during your colposcopy shows that you have precancerous tissue, the tissue may need to be removed to keep cancer from developing,” explains the experts at Cancer.net. They, like us, encourage open communication with your doctor about alternate tests available for a more specific cancer diagnosis, and, if necessary, the different tissue removal methods that may be right for you.
Aside from these potentially scary and challenging conversations around possible biopsy results, in general, there are no direct side effects from the colposcopy itself. For a day or two afterward, you might experience a dark vaginal discharge if a biopsy proves necessary, but that comes from the solution used to reduce bleeding during the biopsy process.
Other possible mild, post-biopsy symptoms include bleeding, cramping, or soreness. We encourage you to reach out to your doctor right away if these symptoms worsen or don’t go away, and especially if you have extremely heavy bleeding, fever after the examination, or severe pain in your lower abdomen or pelvis.
Event tests that are simple to pronounce can be difficult to discuss, but the experts at Avant Gynecology are here for you. If you have further questions about the colposcopy process (or anything else), reach out to the experts at Avant Gynecology or by giving us a call at (404) 352-2850.