The literal meaning of the word colposcopy means looking into the vagina where colpo stands for vagina and scope means to look. To examine the cervix, vulva (opening of vagina) and vagina a colposcopy is done where an instrument called colposcope is used to magnify their view and observe them under a light that is attached to the colposcope. The doctor makes you lie on your back and your legs are placed in the stirrups (holders). The doctor then opens the vagina slightly with the help of a speculum to view the cervix. Vinegar solution is applied to the cervix and vagina with the help of a cotton swab which makes the abnormal tissue turn white. To study the abnormal tissue further a biopsy is done in which samples of the tissue are taken and sent to the pathologist who will then test the tissue. The duration for a colposcope or biopsy is 20 min to 30 min.
Uses of Colposcope
A colposcopy is recommended when abnormalities are found in a pelvic exam or a Pap smear test. Colposcopy is used to diagnose inflammation of cervix called cervicitis, gential warts, precancerous cells of vagina and cervix, cancer of cervix, cancer of vagina and genital warts. Colposcopy is important because you can detect cancer of cervix at an early stage itself.
Preparing for a Colposcopy
To prepare for colposcopy, you must avoid medications for the vagina, tampons, and sexual intercourse 24 hours before the procedure. If you are having periods you must postpone your appointment. There may be discomfort if you take any over the counter medication for pain relief before colposcopy. You must consult your doctor before taking any medication before the procedure, and also tell the doctor if you are allergic to medications like ibuprofen or aspirin. Women do feel anxious about the procedure and it is normal. You can ask your doctor for any reading material regarding the colposcopy. Try to relax by deep breathing, meditation or just chatting with your friends and family to keep your mind diverted. It is important for you tell the doctor if you are pregnant. This will change the doctor’s approach to colposcopy. In this procedure, only a small sample of cervical tissue is taken and this does not affect your ability to get pregnant. You may have slight cramps when a sample of the tissue is being removed for biopsy. You must relax your muscles as much as possible and take deep breaths during the procedure. It is observed that women feel less anxious when they listen to music on an MP3 or any player while doing the procedure.
After the Procedure
After the colposcopy, a dark colored vaginal discharge may be seen. To stop bleeding after the procedure the doctor puts a brownish yellow paste in the area. The blood mixes with the paste and comes out as black discharge that is thick in consistency for a few days after the procedure. Spotting is normal for two days after the procedure and you may need to wear a sanitary pad for few days. If only colposcopy is done, then you will feel fine immediately after the procedure, but if biopsy is also done with colposcopy, then you will feel soreness for 1- 2 days after the procedure. The doctor will advise you to avoid sex, tampon use and douching which is vaginal irrigation during the healing period of cervix for around 1 week.
You need to call your doctor after colposcopy, if you have problems like pain in the lower abdomen, heavy vaginal bleeding, fever with chills, and bad vaginal odor.
The test results of colposcopy and biopsy takes about 1 to 2 weeks to come from the pathologist. You will be contacted by your doctor when the report arrives. The doctor will give you an appointment to discuss about your treatment plan depending on the test results. If the result of biopsy is normal then it means that there are no precancerous cells in the tissue. If results of biopsy are abnormal then it indicates cervical cancer or human papilloma virus infection leading to cervical warts or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia which is a precancerous tissue change.
Colposcopy procedure was first introduced by Professor Hans Hisselmann of Germany in 1925 to detect cervical cancer in the early stages itself. Early detection of cancer can help in its effective treatment. This procedure is now followed worldwide and now 22 countries are members of the International federation for cervical pathology and colposcopy.