Posted October 1, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read

A colposcopy is a procedure to check your cervix, the wall of your vagina and your vulva for signs of cancerous or pre-cancerous tissue. If you’ve had an abnormal Pap test or a positive HPV test, your provider may recommend colposcopy to get closer to a diagnosis.

What is Colposcopy?

  • Colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows your provider to check your cervix (lower part of your uterus) and the wall of your vagina for abnormal tissue.

  • During the procedure, a special lighted microscope called a colposcope magnifies the tissue that lines your cervix and vagina.

  • If your provider sees any abnormalities, they can take tissue samples (biopsies) that can be tested in a lab for cancerous or precancerous cells.

Uses of Colposcopy

  • Colposcopies primarily check for cancer cells or cells that could become cancer if not treated (also called cervical dysplasia).

  • Your provider will look for these cells in your cervix, vagina and external genitals (vulva).

  • Colposcopies can also test for genital warts and noncancerous growths called polyps.

  • Sometimes, your provider might recommend a colposcopy to evaluate other symptoms like abnormal vaginal bleeding or vulvar itching.

How to prepare for a Colposcopy?

  • Share your pregnancy status with your healthcare provider.

  • You can have a colposcopy during pregnancy, but you may be at greater risk for bleeding if your provider performs a biopsy during the procedure.

  • Discuss these concerns with your provider.

  • Schedule your colposcopy for a time when you’re not menstruating.

  • You can have the procedure during your period.

  • Still, your provider will have an easier time viewing your cervix if you’re not bleeding.

  • Avoid any kind of vaginal penetration for 48 hours before your colposcopy.

  • Avoid intercourse and penetration with fingers or sex toys.

  • Don’t use tampons or vaginal medications, like creams or suppositories.

  • All these things can alter the results of your colposcopy.

  • Take a pain reliever on the day of the procedure.

  • Medications containing acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can make you more comfortable during the procedure.

Procedure of Colposcopy

A colposcopy is usually no more uncomfortable than having a Pap test. You won’t need any anesthesia or pain medicine. Here’s what to expect:

  • You’ll lie on an examining table with your feet in stirrups.

  • Your provider will insert an instrument called a speculum that will widen your vagina so that your cervix is visible.

  • Your provider will look through the colposcope to take a closer look at your vagina and cervix. The colposcope has a built-in light and binocular-like lenses that make it easy for your provider to view your cervix while remaining seated at your feet. The colposcope will remain outside your vagina the whole time.

  • Your provider will use a cotton swab to apply an acetic acid solution (vinegar solution) to your cervix. You may notice a slight burning sensation. The solution helps highlight any suspicious areas.

What happens after the Colposcopy?

You should be able to resume normal activities immediately following your appointment. If you didn’t have a biopsy, you might notice some spotting for the next two days.

If you had a biopsy, you might experience:

  • Light vaginal bleeding that lasts a few days.

  • Slight pain in your vagina that lasts a few days.

  • Vaginal discharge that may appear black or brown (from the acetic solution).

What do the results of my Colposcopy mean?

  • The results of your colposcopy and biopsy will determine if you need any treatment.

  • About 40% of people receive results that report no sign of abnormal cells.

  • About 60% need treatment of some kind to address an abnormality.

  • Examples of abnormalities include masses on the cervix, vagina or vulva.

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