A colposcopy usually is performed by your doctor in response to an abnormal Pap smear. The purpose of the colposcopy is to allow your doctor to examine your vagina, vulva and cervix. The reasons for an abnormal Pap smear can vary greatly, but they are caused most commonly by viral infections, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV). Other types of infections might include:
- Yeast (fungi)
- Protozoa (Trichomonas)
Abnormal Pap test results may also result from naturally occurring cervical cell changes called atrophic vaginitis that are related to menopause. If a Pap test indicates the presence of viruses, infections or cervical cells, then it’s necessary for your doctor to be able to determine the source of the problem. Left untreated, these cervical cell changes continue to grow and can lead to such serious complications as cancer.
How a Colposcopy Works
Like most pelvic exams, the bulk of your visit will be spent in the stirrups. It begins with another Pap smear test and an HPV test if you haven’t recently had one. You’ll be cleansed with a vinegar solution to make some types of abnormal cells visible. A lighted magnifying device that roughly resembles binoculars, called a colposcope, enables your OBGYN to see issues that could well be overlooked by the naked eye.
Your doctor may decide to take pictures or even videos of your cervix and vagina through a small camera attached to the end of the colposcope. If any suspicious or questionable areas are visible, your OBGYN can take a tissue sample (also known as a biopsy) from inside the cervix without having to perform another procedure. The samples taken from your cervix are sent to a pathologist for laboratory examination.
Three types of biopsies commonly used during colposcopy include:
- Endocervical curettage (ECC)
- Punch biopsy
- Cone biopsy
Preparing for a Colposcopy
Try to schedule your appointment for a week that you’re not on your period. Be sure to tell your doctor if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have any allergies to medication
- Are taking medications
- Were previously treated for cervical, vaginal or pelvic infections
- Have bleeding problems or take blood thinners
During the Colposcopy Procedure
The vinegar solution your doctor uses on your cervix may sting a bit, but not much and not for very long. If any abnormal spots are detected and the biopsy is necessary, your doctor uses small clippers to snip away minute tissue samples from your cervix. You’ll likely feel some minor discomfort.
You’ll feel a pinching or cramping sensation during the procedure. You may spot or bleed following a biopsy. If there is bleeding, it should only last a day or so. If the bleeding persists, call your doctor. Back at the gynecologist’s office, bleeding after colposcopy can be stopped by using a cotton swab to apply a chemical solution or with a stitch.
Risk and Recovery
The risk of complications following a colposcopy are extremely minimal since a colposcopy is simply an examination. However, if a biopsy is necessary, there is a small risk of bleeding and infection that may require additional treatment. Cramping, light bleeding, and discharge are possible for a few days following the biopsy.
There is also a small chance that you may experience fever, chills or pelvic pain. Restricted activities will vary depending on the technique used to collect your biopsy. Using tampons and douches, lifting heavy objects and having sex after colposcopy are discouraged for several weeks following the biopsy to allow for proper healing.
Colposcopy During Pregnancy
A colposcopy is performed in pregnant women to determine if there is invasive cancer. Since the procedure is more difficult in a pregnant woman due to several factors, such as increased mucus production and gland prominence, it should only be conducted by an experienced OBGYN. Talk to your doctor before the procedure, so you’re comfortable with the procedure.
If the initial exam proves questionable, follow up with another every six to 12 weeks or after 20 weeks. Since a pregnant cervix has a tendency to bleed excessively, biopsies usually are avoided for fear of causing harm to your baby. Generally, biopsies only are performed on a pregnant woman if all the evidence points to an extreme risk of cancer or dysplasia. And you can’t know that without the biopsy. Done right, a colposcopy won’t harm you if you’re pregnant, and it won’t harm your baby.
Colposcopy HPV (Detecting the Human Papillomavirus)
The main focus of a colposcopy exam is to prevent cervical cancer by detecting its warning signs early enough to treat the problems that can cause it. The HPV virus is a sexually transmitted disease with positively staggering statistics. Comprised of a group of more than 100 different viruses, 30 of which cause varying types of cancer, HPV is just as widespread as it is dangerous.
The only way to avoid the virus is to abstain from direct sexual contact, oral, vaginal, or anal. HPV is also known to cause genital warts that appear in batches that resemble cauliflower on the inside and outside of your vagina. It could take weeks, months, or years for symptoms to appear. In some cases, visible symptoms never manifest. No test to detect HPV in men exists. And there is still no cure for HPV.
Colposcopy for Endometriosis
In endometriosis, the lining of your womb grows in different places — such as on your ovaries, your fallopian tubes, behind your uterus, or on your bowels or bladder. In some rare cases, the tissue has been found to occur in other parts of the body.
It’s known to occur in an estimated six to 10 percent of women. These areas of growth can bleed and result in swelling and scarring. These growths are not cancerous, however, and can be diagnosed through a combination of symptoms and medical exams.
In many cases, your doctor is able to tell immediately if abnormal growths or areas are visible on your cervix. If a biopsy is performed, it only takes days to get the results. Your doctor may recommend additional testing depending on your results. You may have to wait until your cervix has healed from the initial biopsy before these tests can be conducted.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult ob/gyn doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions about Colposcopy procedure? Would like to schedule an appointment with internationally recognized NYC GYN specialist, Dr. Pedram Bral of Manhattan Women’s Health and Wellness, please contact our office for OBGYN consultation.
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Midtown OB GYN)
New York, NY10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 533-4575