If you have a Pap smear annually or on a regular basis, you know that in most cases the results come back clear. If a test shows abnormal results, a common procedure called a colposcopy may be needed.
What is a colposcopy?
Your provider will use a colposcope to examine the cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus. This device looks somewhat like binoculars, enhanced by a powerful light. Before the test begins, the cervix will be washed with a vinegar-like solution, which makes abnormal, potentially cancerous cells more visible.
When making a visual assessment of the cervix to look for any sign of cervical cancer, your doctor may remove a small amount of tissue to be sent to a lab for careful analysis. This is called a cervical biopsy.
The process typically takes less than 15 minutes.
When a colposcopy is needed
Abnormal results on a routine cervical cancer screening are the most common reason for a colposcopy. But the procedure may also be used if the cervix is inflamed (known as cervicitis), if noncancerous growths called polyps are present, if pain or bleeding seems to originate from the cervix, or if a woman has genital warts on the cervix.
What to expect if you need a colposcopy
During a colposcopy, you’ll be asked to lie down on an examination table. As during a pelvic exam, a speculum will be used to open the vagina to provide a clearer look at the cervix. The colposcope itself will not touch you.
If a cervical biopsy is performed, you might feel a sensation like a pinch or even a cramp. You may also experience some minor bleeding afterward.
Discomfort is usually minimal during the colposcopy, but you may feel a little stinging when the solution is applied before the procedure.
Following a colposcopy, your provider may give you instructions about activities to avoid or what to expect. After a biopsy, you will likely be told to refrain from using tampons or having vaginal sex as the cervical tissue heals.
If a cervical biopsy reveals cancerous tissue, multiple treatment options are available. Talk with your doctor about a plan based on your specific situation.
St. Elizabeth offers a full spectrum of women’s health services designed to meet the needs of women of all ages and stages of life. For answers to your questions about cervical cancer screenings or colposcopy, find a women’s health services provider at St. Elizabeth Physicians in Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.