Colposcopy (kol-POS-kuh-pee) is a procedure to closely examine your cervix, vagina and vulva for signs of disease. During colposcopy, your doctor uses a special instrument called a colposcope.
Your doctor may recommend colposcopy if your Pap test result is abnormal. If your doctor finds an unusual area of cells during your colposcopy procedure, a sample of tissue can be collected for laboratory testing (biopsy).
You may experience anxiety before your colposcopy exam. Knowing what to expect during your colposcopy may help you feel more comfortable.
A trained specialist (colposcopist) positions the colposcope to examine your cervix, vagina and vulva for the presence of suspicious areas of tissue that might indicate cancer.
Your doctor may recommend colposcopy if a Pap test or pelvic exam revealed abnormalities.
Colposcopy can be used to diagnose:
The ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vagina (vaginal canal) make up the female reproductive system.
The vulva is the outer part of the female genitalia, including the labia majora, labia minora and clitoris.
Colposcopy is a safe procedure that carries very few risks. Rarely, complications from biopsies taken during colposcopy can occur, including:
Signs and symptoms that may indicate complications include:
Call your doctor if you experience any of these signs and symptoms after your colposcopy.
To prepare for your colposcopy, your doctor may recommend that you:
Many women experience anxiety as they wait for their colposcopy exams. Anxiety can make you feel generally uncomfortable. You may find it hard to concentrate, and you may have difficulty sleeping.
Women who are very anxious about their colposcopy may experience more pain during the procedure than those who find ways to control and manage their anxiety. Women with high anxiety levels are also more likely to skip their colposcopy appointments.
Colposcopy is usually done in a doctor's office, and the procedure typically takes 10 to 20 minutes. You'll lie on your back on a table with your feet in supports, just as during a pelvic exam or Pap test.
The doctor places a metal speculum in your vagina. The speculum holds open the walls of your vagina so that your doctor can see your cervix.
Your doctor positions the special magnifying instrument, called a colposcope, a few inches away from your vulva. Your doctor then shines a bright light into your vagina and looks through the lens of the colposcope, as if using binoculars.
Your cervix and vagina are swabbed with cotton to clear away any mucus. Your doctor may apply a solution of vinegar or another type of solution to the area. This may cause a burning or tingling sensation. The solution helps highlight any areas of suspicious cells.
If your doctor finds a suspicious area, a small sample of tissue may be collected for laboratory testing. To collect the tissue, your doctor uses a sharp biopsy instrument to remove a small piece of tissue. If there are multiple suspicious areas, your doctor may take multiple biopsy samples.
What you feel during a biopsy depends on what type of tissue is being removed:
Your doctor may apply a chemical solution to the biopsy area to limit bleeding.
If your doctor didn't take a biopsy sample during your colposcopy, you won't have any restrictions on your activity once your exam is complete. You may experience some spotting or very light bleeding from your vagina in the next day or two.
If you had a biopsy sample taken during your colposcopy, you may experience:
Use a pad to catch any blood or discharge. Avoid tampons, douching and vaginal intercourse for a week after your biopsy, or for as long as your doctor instructs you to.
Before you leave your colposcopy appointment, ask your doctor when you can expect the results. Also ask for a phone number you may call in the event you don't hear back from your doctor within a specified time.
The results of your colposcopy will determine whether you'll need any further testing and treatment.