Colposcopy

Definition

A colposcopy is a close-up exam of the cervix. It is done with a tool called the colposcope. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus.

Female Reproductive Organs

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Reasons for Procedure    TOP

Colposcopy is usually done after one of the following:

The exam can help to:

  • Help diagnose cervical cancer or precancerous changes
  • Give more information about abnormal cells found on a pap smear
  • Find the location where a tissue biopsy should be done
  • Monitor treatment of abnormalities of the cervix
  • Allow a visual exam of the cervix, vaginal walls, or vulva

Possible Complications    TOP

Complications are rare. But, no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have colposcopy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

In the 24 hours before the procedure, your doctor may advise you to:

  • Avoid sexual intercourse
  • Avoid using medication or creams in your vagina

Anesthesia

The cervix may be numbed with a local anesthetic. It may not be needed.

Description of the Procedure    TOP

It will start like a regular pelvic exam. A device called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina. The speculum will gently spread apart the vaginal walls. The scope will be placed at the opening of the vagina. Then, the cervix will be wiped with a solution. This will make it easier to see abnormal areas. The cervix and vagina will be examined closely. A small sample of tissue may also be taken. Once the doctor is done the scope will be removed. Then the speculum will be closed and removed.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

About 5-10 minutes

How Much Will It Hurt?    TOP

It is usually painless. You may feel a slight pinch and mild cramping if a sample is removed.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

If a sample was removed:

  • You may need to use a sanitary pad for a few days.
  • Do not put anything into your vagina for at least a week.
  • Do not use tampons or have sex until your doctor says it is okay.

Results from a biopsy should be ready in about one week. Your doctor will talk to you about next steps which may include other tests or treatment.

If a sample was not taken, you can return to normal activities.

Call Your Doctor    TOP

Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Fever, chills
  • Severe pain
  • Bad-smelling vaginal discharge

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

RESOURCES

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sogc.org
Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References

American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Practice Bulletin No. 140: management of abnormal cervical cancer screening test results and cervical cancer precursors. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;122(6):1338-1367.
Cervical cancer—colposcopy. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated October 2017. Accessed December 13, 2017.
Colposcopy. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated April 2015. Accessed December 13, 2017.
Last reviewed June 2018 by Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 6/12/2018

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