What is a colposcopy?
When abnormalities are found on your Cervical Screening Test (CST), your GP may refer you for a more detailed examination with a gynaecologist which may involve a colposcopy. A colposcopy is a simple procedure that allows your gynaecologist to see a magnified view of your cervix, vulva and vagina. The equipment used is a colposcope, which is a magnifying instrument. Similar to a pap smear, a speculum is inserted into the vagina and different liquids are applied in small amounts to aid the assessment. A swab or biopsy may also be performed to for further investigation or treatment.
The procedure only takes 5 - 10 minutes and most people do not experience any pain. However, you may have some discomfort from having the speculum inside your vagina. You should be able to go home after the test.
What is a biopsy?
If areas of your cervix appears abnormal during the colposcopy, a small sample of tissue (biopsy) may be taken from the abnormal areas of the cervix. This sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing.
You may have some pain for a short time and rigorous exercise should be avoided for 24 hours. It’s also best to avoid sexual intercourse for one to two days. These precautions reduce your risk of bleeding or infection. You may have some discharge and ‘spotting’ for a few hours afterwards.
What to expect during a colposcopy?
When you see your specialist, it’s fine to ask as many questions about the test as you like. The procedure is done in your gynaecologist’s rooms.
You will be positioned on an examination bed with your legs supported on the bed or be supported in stir-ups and be made as comfortable as possible.
A speculum will be inserted into the vagina to allow your gynaecologist to visualise the cervix. The colposcope is then positioned between your legs but it will not touch you.
Depending on why you are having a colposcopy, a repeat CST may be taken from the cervix.
The cervix is then dabbed gently with vinegar (clear solution) to show any abnormal areas. Sometimes, liquid iodine (brown solution) is used to further identify potential abnormal cells. The liquids are applied using a cotton swab and may cause mild irritation. You should not experience pain.
A small amount of tissue (biopsy) may be taken for further testing at the laboratory if there are abnormal cells. The biopsy is done using a forcep. It feels like a small pinch and you may experience mild crampy period-like pain for a short while.
Can I have a colposcopy if I’m pregnant?
Yes, a colposcopy is a safe procedure for pregnant women. However, a biopsy or any treatment may be delayed until after you have your baby, depending on the findings on the colposcopic examination.
What to expect after colposcopy?
You should be able to go home after your procedure. Very rarely, patients feel slightly dizzy or nauseous. We will keep you in the clinic until you are feeling well before letting you leave. If your work does not include vigorous activities, you can also return to work on the same day. It is normal to have a small amount of spotting for a few hours. It’s also normal for some women to experience spotting for a few days. Please use panty liners and NOT tampons during this time.
If you are experiencing discomfort or pain, you can take simple pain relief such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. If there is significant pain, discomfort or any concerns, please contact your gynaecologist/GP.
Risk associated with colposcopy
A colposcopy is a very safe procedure that doesn’t cause any serious problems. Very rarely, patients feel slightly dizzy or nauseous. If this happens, you can rest at the clinic until you feel better.
If you have persistent bleeding (bleeding that’s heavier than your usual period), you should contact your GP or gynaecologist for advice on what to do.
Dr Adeline Chan is a female gynaecologist in Sydney, servicing the Western Sydney and Hills District region.