What is a colposcopy?
A colposcopy is a close examination of a woman's cervix, the entrance to the uterus (womb) from the vagina, using a special microscope called a colposcope. You may be referred for a colposcopy after an abnormal Pap smear, or due to symptoms such as unexplained abnormal bleeding including bleeding after intercourse. The colposcope looks like a pair of binoculars on a stand and allows the gynaecologist to have a magnified view of the cervix to check the extent and nature of any abnormal cells. At no time does the colposcope enter the body.
Abnormal pap smear result & colposcopy
An abnormal Pap smear result means that some of the cells of the cervix are different from normal cells. This can be a low-grade or high-grade change or is sometimes undertermined.
For most low-grade changes, more frequent Pap smear tests are all that is needed for a period of time, however, if low-grade changes persist or if a high-grade abnormality was reported, a colposcopy will be needed.
What happens during a colposcopy?
At Jean Hailes our doctors have many years of experience and have been accredited by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. Before the colposcopy the doctor will talk with you to make sure you know what is going to happen. A colposcopy cannot be performed while you have your period. You will also need to advise if you are or may be pregnant.
During the colposcopy a speculum will be inserted into the vagina much like during a Pap smear test. Iodine and acetic acid solutions will then be used to paint your cervix that will highlight any abnormal areas. If you are allergic to iodine you need to let the gynaecologist know before your procedure.
The gynaecologist will then look through the colposcope to carefully examine the cervix and will be able to see the location and pattern of any abnormal cells. The entire examination takes about 5-10 minutes.
Is it painful?
Most women do not experience any pain, although you may have some discomfort from having the speculum inside your vagina for this length of time. If a biopsy sample is required, you may experience minor period like cramps for a short time immediately after the biopsy is taken. You may wish to take some simple analgesia (paracetamol or ibuprofen) 1-2 hours beforehand.
During the colposcopy a small sample of tissue from the area where the abnormal cells are (a biopsy) may be taken and sent to a laboratory for testing. It can take up to two weeks for the result to come back. Arrangements should be made for you to discuss the results when they are available and to find out if treatment is required.
It is normal to have a little spotting for 2-5 days after a colposcopy, especially if you have also had a biopsy. It is a good idea to bring a sanitary pad with you to the consultation.
Tampons, menstrual cups, lubricants, creams and douches are not suitable to use for two weeks following a colposcopy. You should also avoid vaginal intercourse, swimming, bathing and spas during this time, but showers are okay. These precautions are aimed at reducing the risk of increased bleeding or infection.
Post colposcopy, infection and/or bleeding occasionally occurs. Contact your doctor if:
- you experience heavy bleeding or bleeding that lasts longer than 5-7 days.
- you develop a temperature, a smelly vaginal discharge or severe abdominal pain.
For more information
For more information please call the Jean Hailes Medical Centres on 03 9562 7555.
Queensland Cervical Screening Program
Marie Stopes International
PapScreen Victoria – Abnormal Pap Test booklet