What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a diagnostic test that is performed to examine your cervix, vagina and vulva for signs of gynecological disease. During the procedure, your doctor will use a colposcope — a large microscope that enables your doctor to see the cervix more clearly under magnification. If any abnormal cells are found, your doctor can take a sample of tissue to evaluate for cancer or other diseases.

Who is a candidate for a colposcopy

Your doctor may recommend you have a colposcopy if you have experienced any of the following signs:

  • You have an abnormal pap smear
  • Bleeding after vaginal sexual intercourse
  • You have an abnormal growth in the cervix, vulva or vagina

The test is commonly used to diagnose or identify:

  • Genital warts
  • Cancer of the cervix, vagina or vulva
  • Abnormal cells in the cervix
  • Precancer in the cervix
  • Inflammation of the cervix

Risks of a colposcopy

Colposcopy is a relatively safe procedure; however, complications associated with a colposcopy include:
  • Heavy bleeding that lasts longer than two weeks
  • Fever
  • Infection, characterized by heavy, yellowish or foul-smelling vagina discharge
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Achieving pregnancy will be more difficult

Call your doctor right away if you experience these symptoms.

What to expect during a colposcopy

During the procedure, which lasts approximately 10 to 20 minutes, you will lie on your back on a table, with your feet in stirrups. Your doctor will place a speculum in your vagina to hold it open, so your doctor can examine your cervix. Your cervix will be swabbed with cotton to clean the area of mucus and highlight any abnormal cells that may be present in the area. The colposcope will be not be placed inside you but will be positioned right outside of your vulva and is used to take photographs of the suspicious area.

If you need a biopsy along with your colposcopy, you may need a cervical or vagina biopsy. You may feel pressure or cramping during the cervical biopsy, but it is relatively pain-free.

During a vaginal biopsy, you will likely not feel any pain. If the suspicious area is in the lower part of the vagina, you may need a local anesthetic to numb the area before the tissue sample is taken.

Recovery from a colposcopy

You may experience a number of side effects after the procedure including:

  • Dark vaginal discharge for as long as three days
  • Bleeding for up to a week
  • Soreness in vagina
  • Mild cramping

If your doctor did not have to take a biopsy, you can resume your day-to-day activity right away. If you needed a biopsy, you should avoid tampons, douches, vaginal creams and vaginal sexual intercourse for at least a week.

Your doctor will follow up with you if you had a biopsy to share results and if needed schedule an appointment to discuss a treatment plan.

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