Why might I need a colposcopy?
Your provider may do a colposcopy if he or she finds problems or abnormal cells during a pelvic exam or Pap test. Through the colposcope, the healthcare provider can see certain changes in cervical and vaginal tissues. These include abnormal blood vessels, tissue structure, color, and patterns. Your provider may call cells that look abnormal, but are not yet cancerous “precancerous.” These abnormal cells may be the first signs of cancer that develops years later.
If your provider sees abnormal tissue during a colposcopy, he or she may take a small sample of tissue for further study. The healthcare provider may also take tissue samples from inside the cervix.
Your provider may use colposcopy to diagnose and assist in the treatment of:
- Polyps (noncancerous growths)
- Genital warts, which may suggest infection with human papilloma virus (HPV), a risk factor for developing cervical cancer
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure in women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy, as DES exposure raises the risk for cancer of the reproductive system
Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend colposcopy.
What are the risks for a colposcopy?
Possible complications of biopsy may include:
If you are allergic to or sensitive to medicines, iodine, or latex, tell your healthcare provider.
If you are pregnant or think you could be, tell your healthcare provider.
If possible, schedule your colposcopy about a week after your period.
There may be other risks based on your condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.
Certain factors or conditions may interfere with a colposcopy. These factors include:
- Having your period
- Acute pelvic inflammatory disease
- Acute inflammation of the cervix
What happens after a colposcopy?
After a colposcopy procedure, you may rest for a few minutes before going home.
If you have a colposcopy with a biopsy, the recovery process will vary. It will depend on the type of biopsy done and the type of anesthesia (if any) used.
If you have regional or general anesthesia, you will be taken to the recovery room for observation. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you are alert, you will be taken to your hospital room or discharged to your home. If you have this procedure on an outpatient basis, plan to have someone drive you home.
You may want to wear a sanitary pad for bleeding. If you have a biopsy, it is normal to have some mild cramping, spotting, and dark or black-colored discharge for several days. The dark discharge is from the medicine applied to your cervix to control bleeding.
If you had a biopsy, do not to douche, use tampons, or have sex for one week after the procedure, or for as long as your healthcare provider advises.
You may also have other limits on your activity, including no strenuous activity or heavy lifting.
You may go back to your normal diet unless your health care provider tells you otherwise.
Take a pain reliever for cramping or soreness as directed by your healthcare provider. Aspirin or certain other pain medicines may increase the chance of bleeding. Be sure to take only recommended medicines.
Your healthcare provider will tell you when to return for further treatment or care. Generally, women who have had a cervical biopsy will need Pap tests more often.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:
- Foul-smelling drainage from your vagina
- Fever and/or chills
- Severe pelvic (lower abdominal) pain
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the procedure, depending on your situation.