A colposcopy (pronounced kol-POSS-kuh-pee) is a procedure your OB-GYN can use to examine your cervix, vulva, and vagina for signs of illness. Sometimes a colposcopy is performed when a pap smear has shown abnormal cellular growth. If your OB-GYN finds abnormal activity during a colposcopy, they can biopsy a sample of tissue for further testing.
Colposcopy Results, What can they Show?
A colposcopy can help your doctor diagnose the following:
- Cervical cancer
- Vulvar cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Precancerous changes of the cervix, vulva, or vagina
- Cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix)
- Genital warts
How is a Colposcopy Performed?
A colposcopy is a nonsurgical procedure that can be performed right in your gynecologist’s office. It typically takes about 15 minutes.
Your doctor will have you undress from the waist down and rest you feet in stirrups, similarly to a normal pelvic exam. A speculum – a long, narrow, duckbill-shaped instrument – will be inserted into your vagina, allowing your doctor to view your cervix.
Since most patients can find this procedure uncomfortable, Dr. Aliabadi always uses numbing medication on the cervix and Nitrious Oxide (aka “laughing gas”) which virtually eliminates anxiety and helps with any remaining discomfort.
The colposcope (KOLE-po-scope), a magnifying instrument, will be positioned just outside of your vulva. The doctor will shine a light through the colposcope, which will illuminate the cervix and allow your doctor to see the problem areas. Your doctor will apply a solution to the area to draw attention to anything suspicious. This may burn or tingle slightly.
Colposcopy Biopsy. Your OB-GYN may wish to take a biopsy for further testing. A sharp instrument is used to remove a tiny sample of tissue from the suspicious area. A cervical biopsy isn’t necessarily painful, but numbing agents are available. Most times it is uncomfortable and can lead to some cramping. However, a vulvar and vaginal biopsy can be painful. In these cases, the doctor will generally apply a numbing agent to the area.
How to Prepare for Your Colposcopy
If a colposcopy is needed, your OB-GYN will recommend that you:
- Schedule your procedure during a time when you are not having your period
- Avoid using tampons and vaginal medications for at least 48 hours before the procedure
- Abstain from vaginal intercourse for at least 48 hours prior to your appointment
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever about 30 minutes prior to your procedure. You can use either nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (like ibuprofen, Advil, or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Having a colposcopy can provoke some anxiety and as we mentioned earlier, most patients find the procedure uncomfortable. So Dr. Aliabadi always uses numbing medication on the cervix and Nitrious Oxide (aka “laughing gas”) which virtually eliminates anxiety and helps with any remaining discomfort.
You may find it comforting to learn more about the procedure prior to your appointment. Make note of any questions or concerns you have and bring them to your doctor ahead of time.
You are also welcome to bring a portable music device with headphones to listen to during your procedure. Many women find that focusing on their favorite music helps them set aside their anxiety and distracts from the discomfort.
What to Expect After a Colposcopy
After a colposcopy, it’s normal to experience some spotting or brownish discharge for the next few days. This is normal and can be managed with sanitary pads. Avoid using tampons during this time. If your doctor took a biopsy during your colposcopy, you will need to avoid tampons, sexual activity, and any activity that involves inserting objects or fluids into your vagina. This is to reduce the risk of infection.
Risks of Colposcopy
Colposcopies are generally very safe procedures with few risks. However, all medical procedures do carry some risk. Your doctor will explain the risks and help you understand the steps that are taken to reduce risk.
Following your colposcopy, if you experience heavy bleeding, severe pelvic pain, or if you develop a fever, you may have an infection. Call your doctor right away if you think something may be wrong.
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