Colposcopy is a procedure carried out by a specially trained doctor or nurse known as a colposcopist. It is usually undertaken in a clinic or hospital outpatient setting and takes around 30 minutes to complete. Similar to a smear test a colposcopy takes a little longer.
A speculum will be placed in your vagina to allow the colposcopist to see your cervix clearly. The colposcopist will then examine your cervix using a colposcope which is basically a large microscope. The colposcope does not enter your vagina but is placed around 12 inches away from it. You may be able to see what the doctor or nurse is seeing as some clinics provide a video screen.
The colposcopist will carefully examine your cervix for cell changes and will then apply some chemicals to highlight any abnormal cells. The chemicals the colposcopist may use will vary but all cause colour changes.
Chemicals used may include:
Salt water (saline) and green light - sine abnormal cells require more blood than normal cells this combination allows the colposcopist to see the blood vessels on the cervix.
Acetic acid (vinegar) turns abnormal cells white.
Iodine (Schiller's Test) turns healthy cells brown.
Once the colposcopist has identified any abnormal areas on your cervix he or she will need to take a small sample of the affected area. This is known as a biopsy. Before doing so you will be administered a local anaesthetic. A small piece of the abnormal cell area will be removed and sent to the lab for analysis.
If the colposcopist cannot see all of the affected area they may need to do a cone biopsy, which requires removal of a larger sample of the affected tissue.
You will probably be informed as to what happens next before you go home and you will be told to expect the results of the biopsy within a few weeks. However, the colposcopist may also be able to give you an idea of what they expect to find based on the tests they have carried out.
After your colposcopy you may experience some spotting or discharge for a few days and you may also have some menstrual-like cramping. You may have been advised to apply an antibiotic inside you vagina to prevent infectyion but if not and you notice any unpleasant smells or unusual pain or thick offensive smelling discharge let you doctor know immediately as you may have an infection. Do not use tampons for at least a week after your colposcopy.
For any menstrual-type pain you can take over the counter medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen but if the pain persists for more than a day or two or gets any worse, see your gp.
You should not have sex for at least a week if you've had a biopsy in order to allow your cervix time to heal properly. However, if you have only had a colposcopy and no biopsy or other treatment then it is fine to do so.
Preparing for a Colposcopy
If you are notified that you will require a colposcopy then it is important you schedule it between periods, otherwise it will not be able to be carried out. Be prepared for a longer appointment than anticipated as you may require treatment depending upon the findings of the colposcopy. You will probably be required to let the clinic know the date of your previous period so make a note of it before you go. It can also be useful to prepare a list of any questions you may have before attending for treatment.
Related Smear Test Articles
For further information about HPV visit NHS Cancer Screening Programme.
Further information about Colposcopy and invasive illness is available from the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.
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