The colposcopy is a procedure to closely examine the cervix, vagina, and vulva for signs of disease. It is nearly pain-free, it might provoke pressure when the speculum goes in and it might also sting or burn a little when the cervix is washed. This procedure is recommended if the pap test results are abnormal.
Colposcopy can help to confirm and diagnose potential problems, unlike this procedure, the Pap test (also known as pap smear), involves gathering a sample of cells from the cervix and testing them for early changes that can lead to cervical cancer.
What is a Colposcopy?
A colposcopy is used to detect cancer cells or abnormal cells that may turn cancerous in the cervix, vagina, or vulva. Sometimes these abnormal cells are called “Precancerous tissue”. The colposcopy is also used to find other kinds of medical conditions, such as genital warts or non-cancerous growths called polyps.
As we mentioned before if the Pap test or pelvic exam revealed abnormalities. This procedure is a large, electric microscope with a bright light that enables the doctor to see the cervix more clearly and under magnification. In case of noticing any abnormal areas, the doctor will take a biopsy (is a surgical procedure in which a small amount of tissue is removed from the cervix).
How is a colposcopy performed?
A colposcopy usually takes between 10 to 20 minutes. It must be done by a specialist and it requires no anesthetic. For the procedure the patient will lie on an exam table, it will be necessary to use a speculum to keep the vagina open. The next step is to dab a cotton swab in a vinegar-like solution and uses it to wipe the cervix and vagina. It might burn a little, but it will help them see any cells that don’t look normal.
The colposcope does not touch the patient, it might be necessary for the doctor to take photographs and biopsy in any area that appears suspicious. After a biopsy, a solution is often applied to help control bleeding. This solution usually causes a dark discharge that looks like coffee grounds after the procedure and for some days.
Risks of a colposcopy
The risks of colposcopy are minimal, but complications include:
- Fever or chills
- Pelvic pain
- Infection (yellow-colored, or bad-smelling discharge from the vagina.)
- Bleeding (it might be heavy and lasts longer than two weeks).
In case of experiencing any of these symptoms, you must call your doctor immediately.
How to prepare for this procedure
Some recommendations to prepare for a colposcopy include:
- Don’t have sexual intercourse the day or two before the colposcopy.
- Avoid using tampons the day or two before colposcopy.
- Avoid scheduling the colposcopy during the period.
- Don’t use vaginal medications for the two days before the colposcopy.
It is important to ask every doubt to your specialist. You might not have side effects, however, it is important to ask what cares should have after the procedure. In case of having the symptoms mentioned before, consult your doctor.
Thanks to Dr. Alberto Alvarado García, obstetrician gynecologist, who reviewed and verified this article. He made his specialty in Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Mexican Council of Gynecology and Obstetrics in 2000. His specialties are the management of the sterile couple, menopause, diagnosis and treatment of papilloma infections, laparoscopic surgery.
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