Thumbnail image of: Colposcopy: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Female Pelvis: Illustration

Colposcopy (Exam of Vagina and Cervix)

What is colposcopy?

Colposcopy is a procedure to look closely at your vulva, vagina, and cervix. The vulva is the outer part of your genitals. It includes the skin around the opening of the vagina (birth canal) and urethra (where urine leaves your body). The cervix is the opening from the vagina to the uterus. This exam may be done as part of a pelvic exam. Your provider uses a kind of microscope called a colposcope. It is placed just outside the vagina and gives a close-up view of the skin and cells of your vulva, vagina, and cervix.

When is it used?

Colposcopy is most often done if you have had an abnormal Pap test result showing:

  • Possible infection
  • Precancerous cells
  • Cells that look like cancer
  • Any other abnormal cells

This exam can help your healthcare provider make a more accurate diagnosis and decide on possible treatments.

How do I prepare for this exam?

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you think you may be pregnant. Colposcopy can be done during pregnancy. However, your provider may wait to do a biopsy until after your baby is born.
  • Plan to have the exam when you are not having a menstrual period. These exams are usually not done during your period.
  • Do not douche, have sex, or use any medicines in the vagina for at least 24 hours before the exam.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the exam?

The exam can be done at your healthcare provider’s office.

Because the cervix doesn’t feel much pain, you will not need an anesthetic to numb the area.

You will lie on your back on the exam table with your knees bent and the heels of your feet in stirrup heel holders, just as you do for a regular pelvic exam. Your healthcare provider will put a small tool called a speculum into your vagina to hold the vaginal walls open during the exam. This is the same tool used during a Pap test.

Your provider will put the colposcope at the opening of your vagina. Your provider may apply a vinegar solution to the tissue to make any abnormal areas more visible. You may feel a mild stinging when the liquid is applied. Your provider may also use a tool to remove 1 or more small pieces of tissue for lab tests (biopsy). You may feel a pinch or cramp when tissue is removed. Your provider may put a thick, pasty solution or medicine on the area of the biopsy. This will to help prevent bleeding.

What happens after the procedure?

A few women feel lightheaded right after the exam and may need to stay lying down for a few minutes after the exam. You may have some cramping for a short time.

You may have a little dark-colored, sandy discharge from the vagina for a few days after the procedure.

If you had a biopsy:

  • You may have light bleeding or spotting for up to a week.
  • You may have mild cramping.
  • You may notice a thick black discharge caused by blood and the paste put on the biopsied area. This discharge may last for a few days.
  • You should not douche or use tampons for 1 to 2 weeks while the area heals. Use a pad for any bleeding.
  • Don’t have sex for 1 to 2 weeks after the biopsy. Your provider may ask you to wait until you have had a chance to talk about the test results.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • Heavy bleeding (soaking more than 1 pad per hour, or more bleeding than your normal menstrual flow)
  • Infection

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-23
Last reviewed: 2014-09-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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