Health Services

Colposcopy

What is a colposcopy?
A colposcopy is a way your healthcare provider can examine your genitals, vagina and cervix closely. A colposcope is an instrument that shines a light on the cervix and magnifies the view for your doctor. At the beginning of the exam, you lie back and place your feet in the stirrups as you would for a Pap smear. Your healthcare provider inserts a speculum into your vagina and opens it slightly so he or she can see your cervix. Then they apply a vinegar solution to the cervix and vagina with a cotton ball or swab. The vinegar makes abnormal tissue turn white so your healthcare provider can identify areas that may need further evaluation.

If your healthcare provider sees areas of abnormal tissue during the colposcopy, he or she may also perform a biopsy. This involves removing small samples of tissue from any abnormal areas in or around the cervix. A specialist doctor called a pathologist will examine these samples.

It usually only takes 20 to 30 minutes for your doctor to complete a colposcopy and biopsy.

Why is a colposcopy performed?
A colposcopy is usually performed to help your healthcare provider find the reason for an abnormal Pap smear.

Why is colposcopy important?
Colposcopy is important because it can detect precancerous changes and cancer of the cervix at an early stage. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider after the test so that any problems are taken care of right away.

Is the procedure painful?
If your healthcare provider takes a biopsy sample, you may feel mild cramps and pinching when he or she removes the abnormal tissue. Relaxing your muscles as much as possible and taking slow, deep breaths during the procedure may help. You may feel less discomfort if you take an over-the-counter pain reliever before the procedure. Ask your healthcare provider what kind of medicine you should take, how much to take, and when to take it.

How should I prepare to have a colposcopy?
You may be more comfortable if you empty your bladder and bowels before the procedure. Don't douche or have sexual intercourse during the 24 hours before your appointment.

Does this procedure affect my ability to have children?
No. If your healthcare provider takes a biopsy sample, the amount of tissue taken from your cervix is very small and removing it will not affect any future pregnancies. However, it is important to let your healthcare provider know if you are pregnant now or even if you might be pregnant. This information will change the way the procedure is done.

Will I have bleeding after a colposcopy?
You may have a dark-colored vaginal discharge after the colposcopy. If your healthcare provider takes a biopsy sample, he or she will put a thick, brownish-yellow paste on that area to stop any bleeding. When this paste mixes with blood, it forms a thick black discharge. It's normal to have this discharge for a couple of days after the procedure. It's also normal to have a little spotting for at least two days after a colposcopy.

Can I use tampons after the procedure?
No. Don't use tampons or put anything in your vagina for at least 1 week after the procedure, or until your healthcare provider tells you it's safe. Don't have sexual intercourse for at least 1 week.

When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call right away if you have any of the following problems after your colposcopy:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding (using more than one sanitary pad per hour).
  • Lower abdominal pain.
  • Fever, chills or a bad-smelling vaginal odor.

When will I get the results of my colposcopy?
It usually takes 2 to 3 weeks for your healthcare provider to get a report from the pathologist who looks at your biopsy samples. The office will contact you when these results are available. You will need to make a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider to talk about the results and any additional treatment you may need. Try to schedule an appointment no later than 1 month after your colposcopy.

Revised 05/05