A colposcopy is a way of looking at a magnified view of the vagina and cervix. It allows the physician to see problems that cannot be seen with the naked eye alone. The procedure is performed in the San Francisco Women’s Healthcare office and is best performed when a woman is not having her menstrual period. A patient should not douche, use a tampon, or have sex within 24 hours of the procedure. A speculum is inserted into the vagina and then a vinegar solution is applied to the cervix to allow the abnormal areas to be seen with the colposcope. A biopsy may be taken at the same time as a colposcopy where a small piece of tissue is removed from the cervix and studied for more information.
When a Pap smear from the cervix or vagina shows abnormal cells, a colposcopy is usually the next step.The Pap smear is a random sampling of cells from sweeping a spatula over the cervix. If the cervical cells have abnormal characteristics, visualizing the cervix under magnification will determine more definitively if there are precancerous cervical tissue changes. This procedure allows the doctor to get a better view of the changes happening in the cervix. It may also be used to further diagnose problems with genital warts, polyps, pain, bleeding, or an inflamed cervix.
If a patient has a colposcopy without a biopsy, they should feel fine right away and return to normal activity the same day as the procedure. If a biopsy is performed in addition to the colposcopy, the patient may experience some pain, vaginal bleeding, and dark discharge for a few days. Over the counter pain medications, a heating pad for cramps, and sanitary pads can be used afterward.
If a biopsy is performed during the colposcopy, the results are known in about one week. The biopsy will confirm if the abnormal tissue found during the colposcopy is a mild infection which may likely resolve itself over the next few months, or if the abnormal tissue represents a more advanced stage and has a higher chance of developing into cervical cancer. If the changes are mild, the patient may be monitored with more frequent Pap smears until the infection has cleared; however, if the changes are more severe, the patient will be asked to return for another office procedure.