A Colposcopy is a simple medical procedure carried out to examine your vulva, cervix, and vagina. The procedure is similar to a Pap Smear test. The doctor uses a magnifying instrument, known as a Colposcope, for the procedure. Usually, a Colposcopy is carried out if your Pap Smear test results are abnormal.
Upon examination, if your doctor comes across any growth of abnormal cells during the procedure, further laboratory tests, such as a biopsy, may be carried out.
Why Do I Need a Colposcopy?
Your doctor may recommend a Colposcopy if they believe something may not be right about your vagina or cervix. Other reasons as to why you may need a Colposcopy include:
- Your Pap Smear test results come out abnormal.
- Your pelvic exam may show an abnormal cervix.
- Unexplained uterine bleeding and other problems.
- Precancerous changes in the vulva, cervix, or vagina.
- Pelvic discomfort, cramping, or pain.
- You may have genital warts or cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix).
Once your doctor gets the results of the Colposcopy, they will know whether further tests are required.
If you notice anything unusual about your vulva, vagina, or cervix, immediately consult a doctor to assess if there is any problem.
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How Can I Prepare for a Colposcopy?
Preparing for the procedure does not require much. However, there are a few things you can keep in mind during the preparation of a Colposcopy:
- Discuss the procedure in detail with your doctor.
- Avoid scheduling the procedure right before or during your periods.
- Avoid the use of tampons and vaginal medications a few days before the procedure.
- Avoid having sexual intercourse for 24 to 48 hours before the procedure.
- Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Discuss this with your doctor in detail before your procedure.
- Empty your bowels and bladder before the procedure for ease and comfort.
Many women experience anxiety before their Colposcopy. Anxiety may cause difficulty in sleeping, concentrating, or fears about the procedure. Women who are anxious before the procedure experience more pain during their colposcopies than women who are not. You can express your concerns and fears about the procedure with your doctor.
Here are a few things to help you cope with anxiety and fear about your Colposcopy:
- Make a list of questions and concerns you may have about the procedure. Discuss them with your doctor before your appointment.
- Ask your doctor for pamphlets and brochures on the procedure. Read them thoroughly before your procedure date.
- Practice activities such as meditation, yoga, or exercise that may help you relax.
Women tend to be less anxious during their Colposcopy procedures if they listen to music. Consider asking your doctor if you may quietly listen to music during the procedure to keep your mind off of it.
Does a Colposcopy Hurt?
Generally, Colposcopy is a pain-free procedure. You may feel some pressure when the doctor inserts the speculum in your vagina. You may also feel a slight burning sensation when the doctor uses the vinegar-like solution. If a biopsy is performed, you may feel slight discomfort and pain.
How is a Colposcopy Performed?
A Colposcopy is a simple procedure that takes about 10 to 20 minutes. It is usually performed in the doctor’s office. It does not require an anesthetic. Here is what you can expect from the procedure:
- The doctor will ask you to lie back on a table, just like you would during a pelvic exam.
- The doctor will then place a speculum in your vagina. It will help hold the walls of the vagina open so that your cervix is visible.
- Using a solution of vinegar, the doctor will swab your vagina and cervix with a cotton pad. It will help remove the mucus from the area. The solution may cause a slight tingling or burning sensation.
- The doctor will position the Colposcope a couple of inches away from your vulva for examination. They will look into your vagina through the Colposcope lens.
- The Colposcope will not touch your body. If needed, the doctor may take photographs of your vagina for further examination.
- If an area looks suspicious, the doctor may take a sample for biopsy.
- Once the sample has been taken, the doctor will apply a solution to help with the bleeding.
Biopsy during a colposcopy
If the doctor finds abnormal cell growth during the Colposcopy, a biopsy may be performed for further tests. The doctor may use a sharp biopsy instrument or tool to collect a sample of the abnormal cells. Depending on the location being tested, the procedure may feel different.
- Cervical biopsy
Colposcopy is usually painless, but a cervical biopsy might cause mild pain, discomfort, or bleeding in some women. The doctor may recommend a mild pain reliever 30 minutes before the biopsy.
- Vaginal biopsy
Most parts of the vagina have little sensation. You may not feel any pain during the biopsy. But the biopsy of the lower part of the vagina or vulva may cause pain or discomfort. The doctor may use a local anesthetic to numb the area before proceeding with the biopsy.
What Are the Risks Associated With a Colposcopy?
A Colposcopy is a routine procedure, and very few risks are associated with it. Complications after the procedure are rare as well.
Once the procedure is completed, your doctor may apply a liquid bandage on your cervix to stop the bleeding. For the next few days, you may notice a brown or reddish-brown vaginal discharge. You may even notice it looks like coffee grounds. Usually, the discharge clears up after a few days of the procedure.
If you notice any of the following signs of infections, immediately call your doctor:
- High fever and chills.
- Vaginal bleeding for more than seven days.
- Extreme pain in the lower abdomen that does not resolve with painkillers.
- Stinky, heavy, and yellowish vaginal discharge.
There are slim chances of the Colposcopy tests coming incorrect. In some cases, the abnormal cells grow back in the future, even after the doctor completely removes them. This is why the doctors recommend regular checkups and Pap Smear tests to ensure your cervix and vagina are in order and there are no abnormal cells.
What Happens After the Colposcopy is Completed?
Once the procedure is completed, you may notice:
- Dark vaginal discharge for about three to four days.
- Mild cramping for a few days.
- Some bleeding for about a week.
After the Colposcopy, your vagina may feel a bit sore as well.
If you did not have a biopsy, you could resume normal activities right away.
If you had a biopsy, avoid the use of vaginal creams, fragrant vaginal products, and tampons for a few days. Avoid having sexual intercourse for about a week. If you have any concerns and fears about the procedure, discuss them with your doctor.
The Results of a Colposcopy
After the Colposcopy, ask your doctor when you can expect the results. The results will determine whether you need further tests or treatment.
The biopsy results may help diagnose abnormal cells in your vulva, vagina, or cervix. Based on the results, the doctor may recommend further tests, if needed. If the biopsy results show precancerous or cancerous cells in your vagina, you may require further treatments. To remove the abnormal cells, the doctor may recommend:
Liquid gas is used to freeze the abnormal cells in the vagina or cervix.
- Cone biopsy
A cone-shaped piece of tissue of abnormal cells is removed from the cervix.
- Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP)
The abnormal cells are removed using a wire loop. It also carries an electric current.
The bottom line
A Colposcopy is a simple procedure that helps the doctor diagnose a number of problems with your vulva, vagina, or cervix. The risks and side effects associated with the Colposcopy are extremely rare. The majority of women do not face any complications or side effects from the procedure.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Can a Colposcopy detect cancer?
The Colposcopy is carried out to examine the vulva, vagina, or cervix. The procedure can detect any abnormal precancerous or cancerous cells. Vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, cervical cancer, and genital warts can also be diagnosed through a Colposcopy.
2. What can you not do after a Colposcopy?
For about 24 hours after the Colposcopy, take it easy, and avoid heavy work. Do not indulge in sexual intercourse as well. Avoid the use of tampons, vaginal creams and products, and douches.
3. Does Colposcopy affect future pregnancy?
The chances of getting pregnant are the same in women who have had a Colposcopy and those who have had other vaginal surgical procedures. Colposcopy does not affect a future pregnancy.
4. What happens if a biopsy result comes abnormal?
The biopsy test looks for precancerous or cancerous cells in the tissue sample taken from the vagina or cervix. If there are cancerous cells present in the sample, your doctor will provide you with further treatment options to remove them from the area.