The Colposcopy of the Vagina and Cervix

What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a test in which your doctor uses an instrument called a colposcope to look at the vagina and cervix. Your doctor may also use the scope to take a sample of tissue.

When is it used?

This test may be done after you have had abnormal Pap test results indicating an infection, a precancerous growth, or cancer.

Examples of alternatives include:

  • You could try another treatment, such as a conization of the cervix.
  • You could choose not to have treatment, recognizing the risks of your condition.

You should ask your doctor about these choices. Tell your doctor if you think you may be pregnant. Your doctor will want to perform the procedure in a different way if you are pregnant.

How do I prepare for a colposcopy?

  • Plan to have the test when you are not having a menstrual period. These tests are not done during a period.
  • Do not douche or have sexual intercourse within 24 hours of the test

What happens during the procedure?

You will lie on the examining table just as you do for a regular pelvic exam. Your doctor will use an instrument to spread the vaginal walls apart. He or she will use a swab to put a weak solution of acetic acid on your cervix or vagina. The acid will turn abnormal tissue white and show where a sample of tissue should be taken.

Your doctor will place the colposcope at the opening or your vagina. When your doctor looks into the vagina, he or she will also see your cervix. If the doctor finds some problem tissue, he or she may use an instrument to pinch or cut off a small tissue sample (a biopsy). You may feel a pinch or slight cramp.

The doctor will remove the instruments. The tissue will be sent to the lab.

What happens after the procedure?

You may feel a little lightheaded right after the test. You may have to lie down for a few minutes after the test is over.

Your doctor will tell you what he or she saw. The test results should be ready in a few days or weeks, depending on the tab.

If your doctor took a sample of tissue, do not have sexual intercourse for 48 to 72 hours after the procedure. Ask your doctor what other steps you should take and when you should come back for a checkup.

What are the benefits of this procedure?

Benefits of this procedure are:

  • Your doctor should be able to make a better diagnosis of the problem in your cervix or vagina and suggest further treatment if necessary.
  • The procedure can be done without an anesthetic.
  • The procedure can be done in the doctor's office rather than a hospital.
  • The procedure is simple with few side effects or complications.

What are the risks associated with this procedure?

Minor bleeding from the biopsy site may occur. Other risks include:

  • heavy bleeding (soaking more than one pad per hour, or more bleeding than your normal menstrual flow)
  • infection.

You should ask your doctor how these risks apply to you.

When should I call the doctor?

Call the doctor right away if:

  • You have heavy bleeding.
  • You have a fever over 100°F (37.8°C) 24 to 72 hours after the procedure.
  • You have pelvic pain.

Call the doctor during office hours if:

  • You have questions about the test or its result.
  • You want to make another appointment.