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A colposcopy is a short procedure done in the provider's office. It is commonly performed due to either an abnormal Pap smear, bleeding after intercourse, abnormal appearing tissue or due to symptoms that suggest an underlying pathology.

What is Colposcopy?

Colposcopy is a procedure that gives your healthcare provider a magnified view of the cervix. It is done using a lighted microscope called a colposcope. In most cases, a sample of cervical cells is taken during a biopsy. The sample can then be studied in a lab. If any problems are found, you and your healthcare provider will discuss treatment options. Problems with the cervix can be treated best when detected early.


Reasons for the procedure

Colposcopy is usually done as a follow-up exam to help find the cause of an abnormal Pap test. Abnormal pap tests are often due to an HPV (human papilloma virus) infection. HPV is a large family of viruses. HPV can cause genital warts. IT can also cause changes in cervical cells. Colposcopy is also used to assess other problems. These include pain or bleeding during sex, or a lesion on the vulva or vagina.


Changes in the cervix

Certain changes in the growth of cervical cells can result in an abnormal Pap test. In many cases, these changes are benign (non cancerous). But they may signal problems that can lead to cancer later on. This is why colposcopy is used to look more closely at the cervix. When detected early, most problems can be easily treated.

  • HPV infection can lead to abnormal celled changes of the cervix. The infection can also cause genital warts. In most cases, the infection shows no symptoms.

  • Dysplasia occurs when cells on the surface of the cervix begin to grow abnormally. It is often caused by HPV.

  • Cervical cancer may result from dysplasia that spreads beyond the surface of the cervix

What are the risks?

Colposcopy is a very safe procedure. It usually takes less than 15 minutes and most women have only minor discomfort. You can often go back to your normal routine right away. Problems after colposcopy are very rare, but can include bleeding (if a biopsy is done) or infection.


Getting ready for the procedure.

Colposcopy is normally done in your healthcare provider's office. It will be scheduled for a time when you're not having your menstrual period. You may be asked to sign a form giving your consent to have the procedure. A day or two before the procedure, your healthcare provider may also ask you to:

  • avoid sexual intercourse

  • stop using tampons

  • avoid using creams or other vaginal medications

  • avoid douching

  • take over-the-counter pain medications an hour or two before the procedure

During Colposcopy

  • You will be asked to lie on an exam table with your knees bent, just as you do for a Pap test.

  • An instrument called a speculum is inserted into the vagina to hold it open.

  • A vinegar solution is applied to the cervix to make the cells easier to see. You may feel pressure or a slight burning for a few moments.

  • The cervix is viewed through the colposcope, which is placed outside the vagina.

  • If your healthcare provider sees abnormal areas on the cervix, a biopsy will be done and the tissue sample will be sent to a lab for study.

  • You may feel slight pinching or cramping during the biopsy. Medication may be applied to the biopsy site to stop any bleeding.

After Colposcopy

  • If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, you can rest on the table until you're ready to get dressed.

  • If a biopsy was done, you may have mild cramping or light bleeding for a few days. you may also have discharge from the medication used to stop bleeding at the biopsy site.

  • Use pads, not tampons, for at least the first 24 hours.

  • If you have any discomfort, over-the-counter pain medication can provide relief.

  • ask your healthcare provider when you can resume sexual intercourse.


If a biopsy was done, your healthcare provider will get the lab report in a week or two. You and your healthcare provider can then discuss the results. In some cases, you may be scheduled for further tests or treatment. This can include having abnormal cells removed from your cervix. Be sure to keep follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider. These help ensure treatment is successful.

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