A colposcopy is a simple procedure where your doctor examines your cervix, vagina and/or vulva for signs of disease. Many women experience anxiety before their colposcopy exams. Knowing what to expect during your colposcopy may help you feel more comfortable.
If you’ve been told you need a colposcopy, it’s likely due to an abnormal Pap test result. A Pap test is a screening tool that tells your provider whether there are any cell changes occurring on your cervix. A colposcopy is a more thorough diagnostic procedure that allows your provider to examine your cervix for any abnormal cells or blood vessels using a microscope known as a colposcope. A colposcope is basically a large microscope. It doesn’t enter your vagina or touch your body in any way. It simply magnifies your cervix so your provider can observe any changes. Most women who receive a colposcopy have a normal result, and follow up with a few more Pap tests to ensure their immune systems clear these cells on their own.
What can I expect during a colposcopy procedure?
The procedure is very quick–about 10 to 15 minutes. Your provider will give you an opportunity to ask any questions, and before the colposcopy begins, and a quick urine pregnancy test will performed.
For the procedure, you’ll be in the same position as you would for a Pap test. Your provider will use a speculum to expose your cervix and observe your cervical cells through the colposcope.
A colposcope is basically a large microscope. It doesn’t enter your vagina or touch your body in any way. It simply magnifies your cervix so your provider can observe any changes.
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 shined 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 will cause mild discomfort but is usually not painful; you may feel some pressure or cramping.
- Vaginal biopsy. 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 solution to the biopsy area to limit bleeding.
Colposcopy is a safe procedure that carries very few risks. Rarely, complications from biopsies taken during colposcopy can occur, including:
- Heavy bleeding
- Pelvic pain
Coping with anxiety before your colposcopy
Many women experience anxiety as they wait for their colposcopy exams. Anxiety can make you feel generally uncomfortable. You may find it hard to concentrate, and you may have difficulty sleeping.
Women who are very anxious about their colposcopy may experience more pain during the procedure than those who find ways to control and manage their anxiety. Women with high anxiety levels are also more likely to skip their colposcopy appointments.
- Ask your doctor for brochures or pamphlets about colposcopy and what you can expect.
- Write down any questions or concerns you have about the procedure, and ask your doctor to review them with you before your colposcopy begins.
- Find activities that help you relax, such as exercise, meditation, and being with friends and family.
- Consider bringing a portable music device, such as an MP3 player, to your colposcopy appointment. Ask your doctor if it’s OK if you listen to music quietly during the exam. Women may experience less pain and anxiety if they listen to music during colposcopy.
How long do I need to wait for my colposcopy results?
Results typically take 10-14 business days to return to the office. Your results will be discussed with you at your follow up appointment with your provider. Even if the results of the colposcopy are normal, it is important to see your provider to discuss the next steps in your care.