If your pelvic exam or pap test result is abnormal, your doctor may recommend that you undergo a colposcopy procedure. During a colposcopy, a special instrument will be used that is designed to enable your doctor to closely examine your cervix, vagina, and vulva for signs of disease.
Who Should Have a Colposcopy?
Many women who have had an abnormal pap smear are good candidates for a colposcopy. A colposcopy procedure may also be recommended when a doctor notices an abnormality on your cervix during a pelvic exam. It is also useful when testing shows a woman has the human papillomavirus (“HPV”) or if a woman has unexplained bleeding or other problems such as an inflamed cervix, noncancerous growths, or genital warts.
How is a Colposcopy Performed?
The procedure is similar to a pelvic exam. Most patients experience little more discomfort than a pelvic exam.
In the doctor’s office, the patient will lie on an examination table with the patient’s feet in the stirrups. The doctor will insert a speculum into the patient’s vagina to keep the vagina walls open during the procedure. The doctor will then dab a cotton swab in a vinegar solution and apply it to the cervix and vagina. It may sting a little bit, but it will enable the doctor to better see abnormal cells and tissues.
Next, the doctor will use the colposcope to examine the patient’s cervix and vulva. The colposcope is a special magnifying instrument that will be placed near the opening of the patient’s vagina. The doctor will shine a bright light into it, and look through the instrument’s lenses.
If the doctor observes abnormal tissue, the doctor may use biopsy tools to take small pieces of tissue from the vagina and/or the cervix. If the doctor wants to take a larger sample of cells from the patient’s cervical canal, the doctor may use a small, scoop-shaped instrument (called a “curette”). The patient may feel an uncomfortable pinch when tissues are taken. The doctor may apply a solution to the biopsied area to prevent bleeding.
The doctor will send tissue samples out to a laboratory for analysis and contact you with the results.
How to Prepare for the Colposcopy Procedure
The doctor will try to schedule the procedure when you are not menstruating. Inform your doctor if you are pregnant. You may also be asked to give a urine sample for a pregnancy test prior to your procedure. You should follow your doctor’s instructions for preparing.
For at least 24 hours before the examination, the doctor will instruct you not to use a douche, tampons, or any other feminine hygiene products that are inserted into the vagina. You will need to abstain from vaginal sex or use of intervaginal medications.
About 30 minutes prior to the procedure, the doctor may suggest that you take an over the counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but no aspirin or other blood-thinning medications.
What is the Recovery Process Like?
After a colposcopy, you can resume your regular daily activities immediately. You may experience mild abdominal discomfort, cramping, and pain for one or two days after the procedure. Some women may also notice slight vaginal bleeding and a dark-colored vaginal discharge that could last for up to one week.
If you had a biopsy during your colposcopy, you may need to limit your activity for a short time while your body heals. Your doctor will instruct you not insert anything into your vagina for at least several days — do not have vaginal sex, douche, or use tampons or other feminine hygiene products. Depending on how much tissue was taken, the doctor may apply a liquid bandage to your cervix to stop bleeding. If so, you will likely notice some brown or black vaginal discharge for a couple of days.
You should contact your doctor immediately if you experience any heavy vaginal bleeding, severe pain or cramping in the lower abdomen, or a fever or chills, or notice yellowish or malodorous discharge.
What do my Results Mean?
Tissue samples taken during the colposcopy will be analyzed in a laboratory. After reviewing the lab results, your doctor will have determined what steps, if needed, should be taken next. The presence of abnormal cells may indicate another procedure to remove more tissue or could indicate something to watch for on the next pap smear.
If your tests show precancerous changes, be assured that it is usually very treatable — especially if your doctor caught it early. Depending on what your test results show, your doctor may recommend one of a number of procedures commonly used to treat precancerous or cancerous conditions in the cervix.
If more aggressive treatments are needed, your doctor will discuss those with you.
Speak to Raleigh Gynecology Today
For more information about a colposcopy procedure or the results of one you have already had, contact the experts at Raleigh Gynecology. They can provide the highest quality care or provide you with a second opinion if you are wondering about advice you have already been given.