If your gynecologist has scheduled you for a colposcopy, it’s likely because something looked not-quite-right during your last appointment, usually an abnormal Pap smear or HPV test — but before you start worrying, keep reading. Here’s what you need to know before you go in:
Does a colposcopy mean something is wrong?
Your doc (not the internet) is the best option when it comes to answering questions about your personal health. But, long answer short, no — it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Your doctor could have scheduled it because of an abnormal Pap or HPV test. It’s also possible that your cervix looked abnormal during your last gynecological exam or that you’re having issues like abnormal bleeding. A colposcopy is simply an easy way for your doctor to get a closer look at your cervix and figure out what’s going on.
What happens during the procedure?
A colposcopy is a quick outpatient procedure usually done in your gyno’s regular exam room. Your doctor will use a speculum to hold apart the vaginal walls and then place a colposcope — a binocular-like instrument — just outside the vaginal opening. She’ll also use a cotton swab or ball to apply a liquid solution to the cervix and vagina that makes it easier to see abnormal cells. Don’t worry, the colposcope stays outside the body throughout the procedure, so this part of the procedure is no more uncomfortable than a regular exam. If the doctor spots abnormal cells, a biopsy will be performed to collect a small sample of tissue for testing.
Does it hurt?
The level of discomfort or pain you might feel during a biopsy will depend on what type of tissue is being removed — a biopsy of the lower portion of the vagina or the vulva can cause some pain (your doc may use local anesthetic), but since the vagina doesn’t have that many nerve endings, it’s possible the procedure will be pain-free. During a cervical biopsy, you may just feel some pressure or cramping. For most women, even the painful parts just feel like a sharp pinch, but speak up if you’re worried — your doctor should do whatever possible to help make the procedure more comfortable for you. And don’t worry, the appointment will be pretty quick — altogether, the colposcopy and biopsy only take about 10-20 minutes.
Check with your doctor — you likely won’t experience anything more uncomfortable than a little light spotting for a few days if you didn’t have a biopsy. If you did, it’s possible you’ll have a little pain, bleeding, or dark discharge. You gynecologist may suggest you abstain from having vaginal sex or using tampons for a few days.
What happens once the results are in?
Your doctor will put together a plan for you, but your follow up care can be as simple as a repeat Pap to check to see if your abnormal cells have healed. Sometimes the biopsy itself can take care of issues, if your doctor removed the abnormal cells during the procedure. If abnormal cells are still a concern, your doctor may recommend cryotherapy to freeze off the abnormal tissue, a laser treatment, a cone biopsy to cut a cone-shaped wedge out of the cervix, or a LEEP (aka loop electrosurgical excision procedure), which removes abnormal tissue with a thin wire carrying an electrical current.
But don’t get ahead of yourself — your doctor will go through any potential next steps if you need them.