What is a cervical biopsy?
A cervical biopsy is a procedure to remove tissue from the cervix to test for abnormal or precancerous conditions, or cervical cancer.
The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus. It forms a canal that opens into the vagina.
Cervical biopsies can be done in several ways. The biopsy can remove a sample of tissue for testing. It can also be used to completely take out abnormal tissue. It can also treat cells that may turn into cancer.
Types of cervical biopsies include:
Punch biopsy. This procedure uses a circular blade, like a paper hole puncher, to remove a tissue sample. One or more punch biopsies may be done on different areas of the cervix.
Cone biopsy. This procedure uses a laser or scalpel to remove a large cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix.
Endocervical curettage (ECC). This procedure uses a narrow instrument called a curette to scrape the lining of the endocervical canal. This is an area that can’t be seen from the outside of the cervix.
Why might I need a cervical biopsy?
A cervical biopsy may be done when abnormalities are found during a pelvic exam. It may also be done if abnormal cells are found during a Pap test. A positive test for human papillomavirus (HPV) may also call for cervical biopsy. HPV is a type of sexually transmitted infection. Certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer and other less common types of genital cancers. A cervical biopsy is often done as part of a colposcopy. This is also called a colposcopy-guided cervical biopsy. A colposcopy uses an instrument with a special lens to look at the cervical tissues.
A cervical biopsy may be done to find cancer or precancer cells on the cervix. Cells that appear to be abnormal, but are not yet cancerous, are called precancerous. These abnormal cells may be the first sign of cancer that may develop years later.
A cervical biopsy may also be used to diagnose and help treat these conditions:
- Noncancerous growth (polyps) on the cervix
- Genital warts. These may mean that you have an infection with HPV. HPV is a risk factor for cervical cancer.
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure if your mother took DES during pregnancy. DES raises the risk for cancer of the reproductive system.
Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a cervical biopsy.
What are the risks for a cervical biopsy?
Some possible complications may include:
In addition, cone biopsies may increase the risk for infertility and miscarriage. This is because of the changes and scarring in the cervix that may happen from the procedure.
Tell your healthcare provider if:
- You are allergic to or sensitive to medicines, iodine, or latex.
- You are pregnant or think you could be pregnant. Some types of cervical biopsies can be done during pregnancy, but others cannot.
If possible, a cervical biopsy will be scheduled about 1 week after your period.
You may have risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.
Certain things can make a cervical biopsy less accurate. These include:
- Acute pelvic inflammatory disease
- Acute inflammation of the cervix
What happens after a cervical biopsy?
Your recovery will depend on the type of biopsy done and if you had anesthesia.
If you have regional or general anesthesia, you will be taken to the recovery room to be watched. 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 had the procedure done as an outpatient, you should plan to have someone drive you home.
After a simple biopsy, you may rest for a few minutes after the procedure before going home.
You may want to wear a sanitary pad for bleeding. 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 put on your cervix to control bleeding.
Take a pain reliever for cramping as recommended by your healthcare provider. Aspirin or certain other pain medicines may increase the chance of bleeding. Be sure to take only recommended medicines.
You may be told not to douche, use tampons, or have sex for 1 week after a biopsy, or for a period advised by your healthcare provider.
After a cone biopsy, you should not put anything into your vagina until your cervix has healed. This may take several weeks. You may also have other limits on your activity, including no heavy lifting.
You may go back to your normal diet unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise.
Your healthcare provider will tell you when to return for further treatment or care. Generally, women who have had a cervical biopsy will need more frequent Pap tests.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:
- Foul-smelling drainage from your vagina
- Fever and/or chills
- Severe lower abdominal pain
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the procedure, depending on your situation.