Colposcopy

Overview

What is colposcopy?

Colposcopy is an examination of the cervix (lower part of the uterus) and the wall of the vagina. It is performed using a special microscope, called a colposcope, that gives a magnified view of tissue lining the cervix and vagina.

Unlike a Pap test, which scrapes tissue from the entire cervix, colposcopy allows the examiner to take tissue samples (biopsies) from specific areas that do not look normal.

Do I need colposcopy?

Colposcopy is recommended for women who:

  • Have had abnormal Pap test results
  • Have a positive HPV test (human papillomavirus)

Test Details

What is it like to have colposcopy?

This exam is easily done in a medical office or clinic. It is usually no more uncomfortable than having a Pap test. No anesthesia or pain medicine is needed. The patient lies on her back with her feet in stirrups. An instrument called a speculum is then inserted into the vagina. The examiner then looks through the colposcope, which remains outside of the vagina. Your doctor will apply acetic acid solution (vinegar solution) to the area. This may cause a slight burning sensation. The solution helps highlight any suspicious area.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing. If colposcopy shows one or more areas of tissue that do not look normal, small pieces of tissue will be removed and sent to a laboratory to see if cancer or pre-cancer is present. Pre-cancer, also called dysplasia, are cells that may develop into cancer if not treated.

What happens after the colposcopy?

If a biopsy sample was taken, you may experience some light bleeding for a few days. Your healthcare provider will recommend using pads and avoiding intercourse or tampons for a few days to a week after the colposcopy.

Results and Follow-Up

What do the results of my colposcopy mean?

The results of the colposcopy and biopsy will determine if you need any treatment. If the tests reveal early cases of abnormality, like mild dysplasia, your doctor will ask you to repeat the Pap test periodically. Mild dysplasia may go away on its own (tissue returns to normal without treatment). More advanced pre-cancer cells can be treated with loop electrosurgical incision procedure (LEEP) or a cone biopsy. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed to remove the entire uterus.

Resources

Where can I learn more?

NCI Cancer Information Service Hotline: 800.422.6237 (1.800.4.CANCER)
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): 202.638.5577

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/11/2019.

References

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ: Colposcopy. (https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/special-procedures/colposcopy) Accessed 4/12/2019.
  • Planned Parenthood®. What is a Colposcopy. (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/cancer/cervical-cancer/what-colposcopy) (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/womens-health/colposcopy-4274.htm) Accessed 4/12/2019.
  • Hoffman BL, Schorge JO, Schaffer JI, Halvorson LM, Bradshaw KD, Cunningham FG, Calver LE. Chapter 30. Cervical Cancer. Williams Gynecology. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2012. Accessed 4/12/2019.
  • American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology. Colposcopy Guidelines. (https://www.asccp.org/colposcopy-standards) Accessed 4/12/2019.

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