Colposcopy is usually done in a doctor's office and the procedure typically takes 10 to 20 minutes. You'll lie on your back on a table with your feet in supports, just as during a pelvic exam or Pap test.
The doctor places a metal speculum in your vagina. The speculum holds open the walls of your vagina so that your doctor can see your cervix.
Your doctor positions the special magnifying instrument, called a colposcope, a few inches away from your vulva. A bright light is shown into your vagina and your doctor looks through the lens, as if using binoculars.
Your cervix and vagina are swabbed with cotton to clear away any mucus. Your doctor may apply a solution of vinegar or another type of solution to the area. This may cause a burning or tingling sensation. The solution helps highlight any areas of suspicious cells.
During the biopsy
If your doctor finds a suspicious area, a small sample of tissue may be collected for laboratory testing. To collect the tissue, your doctor uses a sharp biopsy instrument to remove a small piece of tissue. If there are multiple suspicious areas, your doctor may take multiple biopsy samples.
What you feel during a biopsy depends on what type of tissue is being removed:
- Cervical biopsy. A cervical biopsy won't hurt, but you may feel some pressure or cramping.
- Vaginal biopsy. Most of the vagina has little sensation and you won't feel pain during the biopsy. But a biopsy of the lower portion of the vagina or the vulva can cause pain, so your doctor may administer a local anesthetic to numb the area.
Your doctor may apply a chemical to the biopsy area to limit bleeding.
After the colposcopy
If your doctor didn't take a biopsy sample during your colposcopy, you won't have any restrictions on your activity once your exam is complete. You may experience some spotting or very light bleeding from your vagina in the next day or two.
If you had a biopsy sample taken during your colposcopy, you may experience:
- Vaginal or vulvar pain that lasts one or two days
- Light bleeding from your vagina that lasts a few days
- A dark discharge from your vagina
Use a pad to catch any blood or discharge. Avoid tampons, douching and having vaginal intercourse for a week after your biopsy.
May. 14, 2011
- Colposcopy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp135.cfm. Accessed March 11, 2011.
- Colposcopy. American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology. http://www.asccp.org/Portals/9/docs/pdfs/Patient_Education/Colposcopy.pdf. Accessed March 11, 2011.
- Gagne HM. Colposcopy of the vagina and vulva. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. 2008;35:659.
- Noller KL. Intraepithelial neoplasia of the lower genital tract (cervix, vulva): Etiology, screening diagnostic techniques, management. In: Katz VL, et al. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2007. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-4/0/1524/0.html. Accessed March 11, 2011.
- Galaal K, et al. Interventions for reducing anxiety in women undergoing colposcopy (review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2007:CD006013. http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews. Accessed March 11, 2011.