Colposcopy is an in-office exam that uses a special scope called a colposcope to closely examine the vaginal canal and the cervix (the uterine opening). The colposcope uses a light and a magnifier to make it easier for the doctor to examine these tissues and to look for areas of abnormal tissue that may need to be biopsied so they can be examined in a lab.
Colposcopies are most commonly ordered when a Pap test or an HPV test yields an abnormal result. The colposcopy can enable the doctor to see the vaginal canal and cervix more closely and to obtain tissue samples for further evaluation so the most appropriate treatment can be provided. It may also be performed to assess abnormalities noticed during a routine pelvic exam.
Colposcopy is performed right in the office during a regular pelvic exam. After the vagina has been gently widened using a speculum, a special solution is applied to the vaginal canal and cervix. This solution acts to highlight areas of abnormal tissue so they’re easier to identify. Then the colposcope is positioned at the opening of the vagina and focused on the tissues lining the canal and the cervix. If an abnormal area is identified, special instruments can be used to gently remove a small portion of cells or tissue for additional evaluation under a microscope. The colposcope itself is not placed inside the vagina but used instead to shine a light on the vagina and provide magnification when examining the tissues inside the vagina and on the surface of the cervix.
The colposcopy procedure typically takes less than 10 minutes to perform, and patients can resume their regular activities immediately afterward. If a biopsy was taken, there may be some spotting or light bleeding which can be controlled with a pad. Mild cramping may also occur. Patients may be instructed to avoid baths, intercourse, douching and tampons while the biopsied area heals, a process that takes just a few days. When tissue samples are taken, the results of the lab analysis should be ready within two to three weeks.