Colposcopy is a way for your doctor to use a special magnifying device to look at your vulva, vagina, and cervix. If the doctor sees a problem, he or she can take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) from the cervix or from inside the opening of the cervix. The sample is looked at under a microscope.
This test is most often done when the result of a Pap test is abnormal. Most abnormal Pap tests are caused by viral infections. Examples are HPV infection and other types of infection, such as those caused by bacteria, fungi (yeast), or protozoa (Trichomonas). Natural cervical cell changes (atrophic vaginitis) linked to menopause can also cause an abnormal Pap test. In some cases, untreated cervical cell changes that cause abnormal Pap tests may become precancerous or cancerous changes.
During the test, your doctor uses a lighted magnifying device that looks like a pair of binoculars. This device is called a colposcope. It allows your doctor to see problems that would be missed by the naked eye. A camera can be attached to the colposcope to take pictures or videos of the vagina and cervix.
Your doctor may put vinegar (acetic acid) and sometimes iodine on the vagina and cervix with a cotton swab or cotton balls. It allows the doctor to see problem areas more clearly.
Why a colposcopy is done?
Colposcopy is done for the following reasons:
How to prepare for a colposcopy?
- Look at the cervix for problem areas when a Pap test was abnormal. If an area of abnormal tissue is found, a biopsy is often done.
- Check a sore or other problem (such as genital warts) found on or around the vagina and cervix.
- Follow up on abnormal areas seen on a previous colposcopy. It can also be done to see if treatment for a problem worked.
- Look at the cervix for problem areas if an HPV test shows a high-risk type of HPV.
Do not have sex or put anything into your vagina for 24 hours before the test. This includes douches, tampons, and vaginal medicines. You will empty your bladder just before the test.
You may want to take a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen
. It is best to take it 30 to 60 minutes before the test, especially if a biopsy may be done. This can help decrease any cramping pain that you may have.
Schedule your colposcopy for when you are not having your period. Heavy bleeding makes it harder for your doctor to see your cervix. The best time to have this test is during the early part of your menstrual cycle
. This is usually 8 to 12 days after the start of your last menstrual period.
Risks associated with a colposcopy
In rare cases, a cervical biopsy
can cause an infection or bleeding. Bleeding can usually be stopped by using a special liquid or swab on the area.
If you have a biopsy, your vagina may feel sore for a day or two. Some vaginal bleeding
or discharge is normal for up to a week after the biopsy. The discharge may be dark-coloured. You can use a sanitary pad for the bleeding. Do not douche, have sex, or use tampons for 1 week. This will allow time for your cervix to heal. Do not exercise for 1 day after your colposcopy.
Results of a colposcopy
In normal cases, the vinegar or iodine does not show any areas of abnormal tissue. The vagina and cervix look normal. A biopsy sample does not show any abnormal cells. In abnormal cases, the vinegar or iodine shows areas of abnormal tissue. Sores or other problems, such as genital warts
or an infection, are found in or around the vagina or cervix. A biopsy sample shows abnormal cells. This may mean cervical cancer is present or likely to develop.