What is colposcopy?
Colposcopy is a way of looking at the cervix, vagina, and vulva through a special magnifying device called a colposcope. A colposcope can greatly enlarge the normal view. This exam allows an obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) to find problems that cannot be seen by the eye alone.
Why is colposcopy done?
Colposcopy is done when results of cervical cancer screening tests show abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Colposcopy provides more information about the abnormal cells. Colposcopy may also be done if you have certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Colposcopy can be used to further assess other problems, including
- itching, burning, or abnormal skin on the vulva (possible signs of cell changes that can lead to cancer)
- genital warts
- cervicitis (an inflamed cervix)
- benign (not cancer) growths, such as polyps
Sometimes colposcopy may need to be done more than once. It can also be used to check the result of a treatment.
How is the procedure done?
Colposcopy is typically done in your ob-gyn’s office.
The procedure is best done when you are not having your period. This gives the ob-gyn a better view of the cervix. For at least 24 hours before the test, you should not
- use tampons
- use vaginal medications
- have sex
As with a pelvic exam, you lie on your back with your feet raised and placed on foot rests for support. A speculum is used to hold apart the vaginal walls so that the inside of the vagina and the cervix can be seen. The colposcope is placed just outside the vulva.
A mild solution is applied to your cervix and vagina with a cotton swab or cotton ball. This liquid makes abnormal areas easier to see. You may feel a slight burning.
The ob-gyn looks through the lens of the colposcope. The colposcope enlarges the view and shines a light onto the vulva, vagina, and cervix.
When is a biopsy done during colposcopy?
During colposcopy, your ob-gyn may see abnormal areas. A biopsy of these areas may be done. During a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is removed from the cervix, vagina, or vulva. You may feel a pinch or cramping while this is done.
Cells may also be taken from the canal of the cervix. A special device is used to collect the cells. This is called endocervical curettage.
It can be helpful to take over-the-counter pain medication before the biopsy. Your ob-gyn can tell you which type of pain medication is best to use.
What should I expect during recovery?
If you have a colposcopy without a biopsy, you should feel fine right away. You can do the things you normally do. You may have a little spotting for a couple of days.
If you have a colposcopy with a biopsy, you may have pain and discomfort for 1 or 2 days. Over-the-counter pain medications can be helpful. You may have some vaginal bleeding and a dark discharge for a few days. The discharge may occur from medication used to help stop bleeding at the biopsy site. You may need to wear a sanitary pad until the discharge stops.
Your ob-gyn may suggest you limit your activity for a brief time. Do not put anything into your vagina for a short time:
- Do not have sex.
- Do not use tampons.
- Do not douche.
When should I call my ob-gyn?
Call your ob-gyn right away if you have any of these problems:
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (using more than one sanitary pad per hour)
- Severe lower abdominal pain