A cervical biopsy is a procedure that involves taking a small sample of tissue from the cervix to check for signs of cancer. Depending on the type of biopsy, it can also remove precancerous cells and treat early stage cervical cancer by removing abnormal tissue.
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A doctor may order a cervical biopsy if a person:
- receives abnormal results from a Pap smear
- tests positive for human papillomavirus (HPV)
- has visible abnormalities during a pelvic exam
This article explains the cervical biopsy procedure, including what to expect before and afterward.
A biopsy on the cervix is a procedure that allows doctors to test for the presence of cancer, or precancerous cells, in the cervix.
A doctor can also perform a cervical biopsy to remove precancerous cells or treat early stage cervical cancer by removing abnormal tissue.
- Colposcopic, or punch, biopsy: This entails removing a small, round piece of tissue. To do this, a doctor uses a sharp, hollow, and circular instrument. This can take place in a doctor’s office.
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): This procedure can take place in a doctor’s office and takes a few minutes. A doctor uses a thin wire loop that has an electric current to remove tissue from the cervix. This can also determine the stage of cervical cancer or remove early or precancerous cells.
- Endocervical curettage (ECC): In a doctor’s office, a healthcare professional will use a spoon-shaped tool called a curette to collect tissue or cells from the cervix.
- Cone biopsy: A surgeon will remove a larger, cone-shaped piece of tissue from a person’s cervical cancer or cervix. This can help diagnose the stage of cervical cancer or remove precancerous or early stage cancer. The patient will have general anesthesia while the surgeon performs this procedure.
A person should receive instructions on how to prepare for the procedure.
Depending on the type of biopsy, a person may need general anesthesia. In these cases, a person may need to avoid eating or drinking before the procedure.
It is also important to avoid the following for 24 hours before the procedure:
- having penetrative vaginal sex
- using tampons
- using vaginal medications or creams
However, a person should not stop taking their regular medication without speaking with a doctor first.
On the day of the procedure, a person may want to take pain-relieving medication.
It is important to arrange transportation home for after the appointment. This is because a person will be unable to drive, particularly if they have general anesthesia.
During a cervical biopsy, a person will lie on their back on an exam table. If they are undergoing a cone biopsy, they will be under general anesthesia. A doctor will then:
- use a speculum to open the vaginal walls and the entrance to the cervix
- apply a vinegar and water solution to wash the inside of the cervix
- swab the cervix with an iodine solution to help them identify abnormal cells and tissue
- use forceps, scalpel, or curette to take a small sample of tissue from the cervix or remove abnormal tissue
Depending on the type of biopsy, the doctor may insert some absorbent material to help reduce bleeding.
Will it hurt?
If a person is awake during the procedure, they may experience a sharp, pinching feeling as a doctor removes any abnormal cells or tissue.
A person may also experience pain that feels similar to period cramps.
A person’s recovery will depend on the type of biopsy they have had.
Those who underwent a cone biopsy may need to stay in the hospital overnight. Otherwise, a person should be able to leave after a short rest.
After the procedure, a person may wish to wear a sanitary pad. This is because the procedure can result in light bleeding, spotting, or dark-colored discharge.
To help relieve cramping or pain, a person can take painkillers.
A person should avoid douching, using tampons, or having penetrative vaginal sex for some time after the procedure. A person’s doctor will let them know how long they need to wait.
A cervical biopsy will show whether cells from the sample are cancerous, precancerous, or normal.
If the cells are normal, the doctor will recommend no further action until the next time the person gets a Pap smear.
If a pathologist finds abnormal cells in the cervix, they will recommend further testing or treatment.
The necessity of a cervical biopsy outweighs any potential risk. However, it is possible to experience complications, such as:
- severe pain in the lower abdomen
- heavy bleeding
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- cervical scarring, if a person has a cone biopsy
If a person experiences any of these complications, they should seek advice from their medical professional.
A cervical biopsy is a procedure to help diagnose cervical cancer. In some cases, a doctor can also use a cervical biopsy to remove precancerous cells or abnormal tissue.
There are four types of cervical biopsies: colposcopic biopsy, LEEP, ECC, and cone biopsy.
A person can speak with a healthcare professional about how to prepare for the procedure, what to expect during the procedure, and how to care for themselves during recovery.