Your healthcare provider uses
colposcopy to view the opening to the uterus, called the cervix, and the vagina. Your
provider uses an instrument with a magnifying lens and a light, called a colposcope.
magnifies the image many times. Your healthcare provider sees the tissues on the cervix
and vaginal walls more clearly. In some cases, your provider will take a small sample
tissue for exam in the lab. This is called a cervical biopsy.
Your provider may do a colposcopy
if they find problems or abnormal cells during a pelvic exam or Pap test. You may
need one if you have an HPV (human papillomavirus) strain known to cause cervical
cancer. Through the colposcope, the healthcare provider can see certain changes in
cervical and vaginal tissues. These include abnormal blood vessels, tissue structure,
color, and patterns. Your provider may call cells that look abnormal, but that are
yet cancerous, “precancerous.” These abnormal cells may be the first signs of cancer
that develops years later.
If your provider sees abnormal
tissue during a colposcopy, they may take a small sample of tissue for further study.
The healthcare provider may also take tissue samples from inside the cervix.
Your provider may use colposcopy to
diagnose and assist in the treatment of:
- Polyps (noncancerous growths)
- Genital warts, which may suggest
infection with HPV, a risk factor for developing cervical cancer
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure in
women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy, as DES exposure raises the risk for
cancer of the reproductive system
Your healthcare provider may have
other reasons to recommend colposcopy.
Possible complications of biopsy
If you are allergic to or sensitive
to medicines, iodine, or latex, tell your healthcare provider.
If you are pregnant or think you
could be, tell your healthcare provider.
If possible, schedule your
colposcopy about a week after your period.
There may be other risks based on
your condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before
Certain factors or conditions may
interfere with a colposcopy. These factors include:
- Your period
- Acute pelvic inflammatory disease
- Acute inflammation of the cervix
- Your healthcare provider will explain
the procedure and you can ask questions.
- You may be asked to sign a consent
form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask
questions if something is not clear.
- Generally, you don’t need any
preparation, such as fasting or sedation. If you have a biopsy under regional or
general anesthesia, you may need to fast for a certain number of hours before the
procedure, generally after midnight.
- If you are pregnant or think you could
be, tell your healthcare provider.
- Tell your healthcare provider if you
are sensitive to or are allergic to any medicines, latex, tape, iodine, and
- Tell your healthcare provider about
all medicines (prescribed and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you are
- Tell your healthcare provider if you
have a history of bleeding disorders or if you are taking any blood-thinning medicine
(anticoagulants), aspirin, or other medicines that affect blood clotting. You may
told to stop these medicines before the procedure.
- Don’t use tampons, vaginal creams or
medicines, douche, or have sex for 24 hours before the test.
- Your healthcare provider may advise
that you take a pain reliever 30 minutes before the procedure. They may give you a
sedative before the anesthesia is started. If sedation is given, you will need
someone to drive you home afterwards.
- You may want to bring a sanitary pad
to wear home after the procedure.
- Based on your condition,
your healthcare provider may request other preparation.
You may have a colposcopy in your
healthcare provider’s office or during a hospital stay. Procedures may vary based
your condition and your healthcare provider’s practices.
Generally, a colposcopy follows
- You will need to undress completely or
from the waist down and put on a hospital gown.
- You will empty your bladder before the
- You will lie on an exam table, with
your feet and legs supported as for a pelvic exam.
- Your healthcare provider will insert
an instrument called a speculum into your vagina to spread the walls of the vagina
apart to expose the cervix.
- Your provider will place the
colposcope, which is like a microscope with a light on the end, at the opening of
your vagina. It doesn’t enter your vagina.
- Your healthcare provider will look
through the colposcope to look for any problems on the cervix or in the vagina.
- Your provider may clean and soak your
cervix with a vinegar solution, also called an acetic acid solution. This solution
helps make the abnormal tissues turn white and become more visible. You may feel a
mild burning sensation. An iodine solution may be used to coat the cervix, called
- Your healthcare provider may take a
small tissue sample called a biopsy. When this is done, the area is numbed, but you
may feel a slight pinch or cramp as the tissue is removed.
- Your provider may take a sample of
cells from the inside of the cervical canal. This may also cause some cramping.
- Your provider may use a paste-like
topical medicine or pressure dressing to treat bleeding from the biopsy site.
- The tissue will be sent to a lab for
After a colposcopy, you may rest
for a few minutes before going home.
If you have a colposcopy with a
biopsy, the recovery process will vary. It will depend on the type of biopsy done
the type of anesthesia (if any) used.
If you have anesthesia, you will be
taken to the recovery room for observation. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and
breathing are stable and you are alert, you will be taken to your hospital room or
discharged home. If you have this procedure on an outpatient basis, plan to have
someone drive you home.
You may want to wear a sanitary pad
for bleeding. If you have a biopsy, it is normal to have some mild cramping, spotting,
and dark or black-colored discharge for several days. The dark discharge is from the
medicine applied to your cervix to control bleeding.
If you had a biopsy, don’t douche,
use tampons, or have sex for 1 week after the procedure, or for as long as your
healthcare provider advises.
You may also have other limits on
your activity, including no strenuous activity or heavy lifting.
You may go back to your normal diet
unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise.
Take a pain reliever for cramping
or soreness as directed by your healthcare provider. Aspirin or certain other pain
medicines may increase the chance of bleeding. Be sure to take only recommended
Your healthcare provider will tell
you when to return for further treatment or care. Generally, women who have had a
cervical biopsy will need Pap tests more often.
Tell your healthcare provider if
you have any of the following:
- Foul-smelling drainage from your
- Fever or chills
- Severe pelvic (lower abdominal)
Your healthcare provider may give
you other instructions after the procedure, depending on your situation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure, make sure you
- The name of the test or procedure
- The reason you are having the test or
- What results to expect and what they
- The risks and benefits of the test or
- What the possible side effects or
- When and where you are to have the
test or procedure
- Who will do the test or procedure and
what that person’s qualifications are
- What would happen if you did not have
the test or procedure
- Any alternative tests or procedures to
- When and how you will get the
- Who to call after the test or
procedure if you have questions or problems
- How much you will have to pay for the
test or procedure