Why Do I Need a Colposcopy?
You’ve gone in for your routine Pap smear as scheduled. (Good for you! This is an important step in maintaining your health.) But after the results of your Pap smear have come back, your doctor tells you that you now need something called a colposcopy. What is that? Should you be worried? Let’s explain.
Why do I need a colposcopy?
Your doctor may decide to do a colposcopy after seeing abnormal cell changes on your Pap smear, which examines cells on your cervix. Additionally, if you tested positive for HPV, a colposcopy can help confirm and diagnose potential problems. HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a virus that may raise your risk for certain types of cancer, including cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
The colposcopy may help your doctor understand these abnormal cell changes better. It’s important to examine these cell changes in case they are pre-cancerous or cancerous. Your doctor also might order a colposcopy if you:
- Have genital warts on your cervix
- Have an inflamed cervix
- Have benign (non-cancerous) growths on your cervix, called polyps
- Have pain or unusual bleeding
What is a colposcopy?
A colposcopy is the name for the procedure. First, your doctor will insert a speculum to open the vaginal walls, just like when you have a Pap smear. Then, your provider will wash your cervix with a vinegar-like solution. Next, the doctor uses a special magnifying device called a colposcope to get a good look at your cervix. The colposcope is not inserted into the vagina. The device includes a light that shines into the vagina onto the cervix. Your doctor can get a much better look at your cervix with a colposcope than with the naked eye.
If your doctor sees cells that are concerning, they will do a biopsy, meaning a tiny piece of tissue will be removed and then sent to a lab for examination. If the suspicious area is small enough, your doctor may be able to remove all of it during the biopsy.
The whole procedure should only take five to 10 minutes. The colposcopy itself should cause little pain except for a slight burning when your cervix is washed. If you have a biopsy, you may have some discomfort and you might experience light spotting a day or two after the procedure. Use a sanitary pad; avoid tampons, douching and sex while your cervix heals from the biopsy.
Call your provider if you experience heavy bleeding, lower abdominal pain, fever or chills.
How can I prepare for the colposcopy?
Try not to schedule your procedure during your period so that it will be easier for your doctor to see your cervix. Also avoid using douches or tampons or having sex up to 24 hours before your appointment.
What happens after my colposcopy?
If you have a biopsy and it shows precancerous tissue, it may need to be removed. Your doctor will explain the different methods of removing the tissue that may be right for you. If cancer is present, your doctor will likely refer you to gynecologic oncologist, who specializes in treating these types of cancer.
Prevention of cervical cancer
One of the best things you can do for your health is keeping up with your recommended schedule of cancer screenings, such as Pap smears. Screening increases the chances of detecting certain cancers early when they are most likely to be curable.
Learn more about OB/GYN Shawn Kleinpeter, MD