Since January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, we want to take the time to bring awareness to what would happen if the results of your Pap or pelvic exam came back with abnormalities. The first step to take would be to perform a colposcopy procedure. If you are preparing for one of these exams or just want to understand the process more, we have laid out exactly what this procedure entails and exactly what to expect so that you can feel confident and prepared as you take care of your cervical health.
What is a colposcopy?
The special instrument that a doctor uses for this procedure is called the colposcope. The colposcope does not enter the body, but rather helps magnify the appearance of the cervix. The magnification is needed at this point because if a Pap test or pelvic exam results in reported abnormalities, the doctor would then request a colposcopy be performed in order to further examine the cervix, vagina and vulva for any signs of disease, sometimes referred to as precancerous tissue. It is basically performed in order to confirm a diagnosis. A colposcopy can be used to diagnose genital warts, inflammation of the cervix and precancerous changes in the tissue of the cervix, vagina and vulva. If anything looks suspicious after this exam, a biopsy may also be requested.
What happens during a colposcopy?
First, you will lie down on an exam table and place your heels in the stirrups, just like during a Pap test or pelvic exam. Your doctor will then insert an instrument called a speculum for a clearer view on your cervix. After this, the colposcope is positioned a few inches away from your vulva. In order to clear away any mucus, your doctor will swab the cervix and vagina with cotton, and then usually add a vinegar and iodine solution to the cervix, vagina and vulva. The reason for this is to help the doctor better see any abnormal areas, as that specific mixture “lights up” any abnormal tissue. The procedure takes only about 10 to 20 minutes.
If your doctor believes that there is something abnormal about any certain area, they will perform a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is collected for laboratory testing. The tissue will be examined under a microscope to identify abnormal cells and determine if the tissue is actually precancerous. It is possible that if the abnormal area is small that your doctor could remove it all during the biopsy. The doctor will use a sharp biopsy instrument to remove the tissue, and depending on what type of tissue is being removed can dictate what you feel during the process. If tissue is removed from the cervix, the biopsy will cause a mild discomfort while you feel some pressure or cramping. If it is a vaginal biopsy, the lower portion of the vagina or vulva can experience pain. During this kind of biopsy a doctor may administer local anesthetic to help numb the area to decrease discomfort.
What happens after a colposcopy?
If no biopsy was necessary during the procedure, you may only experience some spotting or very light bleeding for a couple of days. Other than that, you should be able to return to work and other normal daily activities.
If a biopsy was performed, you may experience pain for a couple days, light bleeding for a few days and a dark discharge. During this time, use a menstrual pad to catch any blood or discharge, and avoid tampons, douching and vaginal intercourse for at least a week, or longer if instructed by your doctor. Ask your doctor when you can expect to hear back about the results of the biopsy, as the timing may vary. The results of the biopsy will determine if further testing is necessary or treatment is needed.
What isn’t normal after a colposcopy?
If you receive a colposcopy and experience any of the following afterwards, call your health care provider for help immediately:
- Heavier vaginal bleeding that causes soaking through a large menstrual pad within an hour or two.
- Vaginal bleeding that lasts longer than seven days.
- Vaginal discharge that is foul smelling.
- Cramps and pelvic pain that do not improve after using pain relievers such as ibuprofen, Motrin and Advil.
- A temperature that is greater than 100.4° Fahrenheit.
If you are needing to get back on track with your cervical health or have more questions about it, we are here to help. Visit us at either of our locations and one of our staff would be happy to assist you.