A colposcopy is a minimally invasive medical procedure that involves a doctor closely examining the cervix to check for abnormal cells. The doctor will use a specialised tool known as a colposcope to carry out a colposcopy.
The colposcope provides sufficient light and magnification for the doctor to examine the cervical cells. During the colposcopy, your doctor will apply an acetic acid or iodine solution to the cervix to remove mucus in the cervix. The solution may cause slight burning or tingling sensation.
The doctor may also take a small sample of cervical tissue called a biopsy for examination in the lab. Biopsies are two types: one where the doctor takes the sample from outside the cervix and the second where the doctor takes the sample from inside the cervical opening.
After the sample tissue collection, the doctor will send it to the lab for an exam to determine if the abnormal cells present are cancerous. If your doctor carries out a biopsy, you may bleed or experience pain for some days. The colposcopy procedure usually lasts for 5 – 10 minutes.
Why is a colposcopy necessary?
A colposcopy is often necessary when a Pap smear result shows abnormal cell activity or growth in the cervix. The procedure gives the doctor a closer look at the cervix to know why the cervical cells are abnormal.
Your doctor may also carry out a closer examination of the cervix if you have other health concerns such as:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Genital warts
- Cervicitis or inflammation of the cervix
- Monitoring the result of a treatment
- Benign cervical growths like polyps
Colposcopy is best done when you are not on your period because the blood may make the examination more challenging. Although some doctors can schedule you for the procedure when you are on your period, ensure you check with your doctor’s office before coming in for your colposcopy.
Medical experts recommend avoiding the following 24 hours of your colposcopy.
- Sexual intercourse
- Vaginal medication
- Using tampons
During the procedure
A colposcopy will follow this procedure.
- You will lie on an examination table with your feet raised up
- The doctor will hold the vaginal walls apart with a speculum. Inserting the speculum may cause a slight pressure
- The doctor will place the colposcope close to the vaginal opening
- They will swab the vagina and cervix with cotton and a solution to make viewing the cervix easier
- If your doctor identifies abnormal cell tissues, they will carry out a biopsy
The doctor may also use another solution to cauterise the area for the biopsy. This helps to reduce the bleeding and aidsthe formation of a scab. The cauterisation solution is either Monsel’s solution or silver nitrate.
You will expel the solution a black or coffee-like colour, so you shouldn’t feel concerned about this.
Sometimes, a colposcopy involves an endocervical curettage, a procedure for taking samples from the cervical canal, but more thorough than a Pap smear. Undergoing endocervical curettage may cause more discomfort.
After a colposcopy, you should feel fine. Some people experience light cramping or spotting, but you can go about your daily activities and don’t need to avoid sex. If your doctor carried out a biopsy, you might need 1 – 2 days to recover. During this period, pain and bleeding may occur.
If you had a biopsy, you should expect a dark-coloured discharge from the Monsel’s solution or silver nitrate.
Over-the-counter pain medications can minimise the pain, and your healthcare provider may recommend avoiding:
- Using tampons
- Sexual intercourse for three days
After the procedure, ask the doctor when your result will be available. If your doctor doesn’t find anything out of the ordinary, you don’t have to do anything. If there are abnormal cells, the doctor may recommend waiting for a while before getting another Pap test to see if the cells will resolve o their own.
The doctor can remove all abnormal cells during a biopsy in some cases. Still, if you need further treatment, your doctor may recommend the following screening tests for woman:
The doctor will use a laser to remove the abnormal cells.
- Cone biopsy
In this case, the doctor will remove a cone-shaped wedge from the cervix to remove abnormal cells
- Loop electric excision procedure (LEEP)
The doctor will use an electrically charged thin wire loop to remove abnormal cells
In cryotherapy, the doctor will freeze the abnormal cells
Risk of colposcopy
Generally, a colposcopy is safe, but there will be a risk of bleeding or infection if you have a biopsy. Ensure you inform your doctor if you have allergies to latex or iodine medication.
Consult your doctor if you experience these symptoms following a biopsy.
- Heavy bleeding
- Severe lower abdomen pain
- Yellow, heavy or foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Getting a colposcopy during pregnancy
Colposcopy during pregnancy is safe, but if you need a biopsy, the doctor will wait until you’ve delivered. Pregnant women who undergo a biopsy may experience more bleeding because of increased blood supply.
If you need a colposcopy, contact Gynae clinic on 020 7183 1049 to schedule an appointment with a gynaecologist.