A colposcopy is a minimally invasive procedure that helps a doctor examine the cervix to see if any abnormal cells are present.
This article describes and explains what a person can expect during and after a colposcopy.
By using a colposcopy, a doctor can examine a person’s cervix more closely. The procedure can help determine if abnormal cells are present.
To perform the procedure, a doctor uses a specialized tool called a colposcope. A colposcope provides enough light and magnification to allow a doctor to examine the cervix more easily.
During the examination, the doctor will swab the cervix with an iodine or acetic acid solution. The solution helps to remove mucus from the cervix. It may also cause the person to feel a slight tingling or burning sensation.
In some cases, a doctor may take a small sample of tissue, known as a biopsy, for later examination.
There are two types of biopsies. One is where the doctor takes a sample from the outside of the cervix, and the other is when they take a sample from inside the opening of the cervix.
The doctor will send the tissue to a lab for examination and to determine if the abnormal cells are cancerous.
If the doctor performs a biopsy, a person may experience bleeding or pain for several days afterward.
The entire colposcopy procedure typically takes between 5–10 minutes.
A doctor will perform a colposcopy when the results of a Pap smear shows abnormal cell growth or activity. They use the colposcope to get a closer look at the cervix to find out why the cells may be abnormal.
A doctor may also use a colposcopy to examine the cervix more closely if there are other health concerns.
Some other reasons a doctor may perform a colposcopy include:
It may be better if a person is not on their menstrual cycle when they schedule a colposcopy. This is because being on a menses may make visualization more challenging.
However, some doctors are willing to go ahead with the schedule, so the individual should check with the doctor’s office first.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, people should avoid the following for 24 hours prior to the procedure:
- vaginal medications
- sexual intercourse
- using tampons
During the procedure
During the procedure, the following will happen:
- The person undergoing the procedure will lay down on an examination table and raise their feet.
- The doctor will insert a speculum to hold the vaginal walls apart during the examination. The individual may feel a slight pressure as the doctor inserts this device.
- The doctor will place the colposcope near the opening of the vagina.
- The doctor will swab the cervix and vagina with a cotton swab and solution to make it easier to see the cervix.
- If the doctor observes abnormal tissue, they may perform a biopsy to remove a sample of the tissue.
On occasions, a doctor may use another solution to cauterize the area of a biopsy to decrease bleeding and form a scab.
The solution may be silver nitrate or Monsel’s solution. When the body expels these solutions, they may look black or resemble coffee grounds in appearance. However, a person does not need to be alarmed by this.
In some cases, a colposcopy may include an endocervical curettage. This procedure involves taking a sample of the cervical canal and is a more thorough process than a Pap test.
A endocervical curettage can cause further discomfort but no other issues.
Following the procedure, a person should feel fine as soon as it is over. Light spotting or cramping may occur, but people can continue with their daily activities and do not need to avoid vaginal sex.
However, if the doctor performed a biopsy, it can take 1–2 days to recover. During this time, the person may experience some bleeding and pain.
They may also expect dark discharge from the silver nitrate or Monel’s solution if the procedure involved these to help reduce bleeding from a biopsy.
People can take over-the-counter medications for any pain they experience.
After a biopsy, a healthcare provider may recommend avoiding:
- sexual intercourse for 3 days
- using tampons
If a doctor performs an examination and nothing appears to be out of the ordinary, a person does not need to do anything more.
If the cells are abnormal, they may heal on their own. If the doctor recommends waiting, a person may need to return for a Pap smear.
If the doctor does a biopsy, people should talk to their doctor about when to expect the results.
Sometimes, the doctor is able to remove all of the abnormal cells during the biopsy.
If someone needs further treatment to remove abnormal cells, they may have one of several procedures:
- Laser: This is when a doctor uses a laser to remove the abnormal cells.
- Cone biopsy: This is when the doctor removes a cone shaped wedge from the cervix to remove any abnormal cells.
- Loop electrical excision procedure (LEEP): A doctor uses a thin wire loop with an electrical current to remove the abnormal cells.
- Cryotherapy: The doctor can freeze any abnormal cells.
A colposcopy is a medically safe procedure. However, if a person needed a biopsy, there may be a risk of infection or bleeding.
A person should also advise the doctor of any allergies to iodine, latex, or any medications.
People should seek medical help if they experience the following after a biopsy:
- severe pain in the lower abdomen
- heavy bleeding
- foul smelling, yellow, or heavy vaginal discharge
A good indicator of whether a person is experiencing heavy bleeding is if they need to use more than one sanitary pad per hour.
Having a colposcopy during pregnancy is safe. However, a doctor may delay a biopsy until after delivery.
If a woman who is pregnant does undergo a biopsy, they may experience more bleeding due to the increased blood supply that occurs during pregnancy.
A colposcopy is a procedure that doctors use to examine the cervix or vagina for the presence of abnormal cells or other underlying conditions.
During the procedure, a doctor will likely swab the cervix or vagina with a solution that could cause mild pain or burning.
In some cases, a doctor may take a biopsy or small tissue sample if they find abnormal tissue.
A person will typically need minimal time to recover from the procedure, although they may experience temporary bleeding or mild pain.