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Colposcopy is a medical procedure that looks at the cervix (the passage connecting the womb and the vagina), vagina and vulva. This safe and straightforward procedure is typically performed in an outpatient setting, so you should be able to go home the same day.

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What is a colposcopy?

Colposcopy (also known as a cervical biopsy) is often recommended in response to abnormal results from a Pap test (also known as a cervical screening or smear test) or other screening tests. The abnormal results could be caused by specific types of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common occurrence among sexually active individuals.

A colposcopy offers a comprehensive evaluation of cervical tissue, helping to diagnose conditions such as cervical cancer, precancerous cells, genital warts, and other cervical or vaginal irregularities.

Reasons for a colposcopy procedure

Undergoing a colposcopy offers several advantages, including:

  • Early detection of abnormalities, such as cervical cancer, which enables prompt intervention of further treatment to prevent the progression of the disease

  • A more accurate diagnosis due to the magnified and detailed view of cervical tissues

  • The option to perform guided biopsies if abnormalities are detected, providing tissue samples for further analysis

  • Assessment of the effectiveness of treatment for pre-cancerous lesions and other cervical conditions, along with monitoring for potential recurrence

  • Can be used as an additional screening tool for those at a higher risk of cervical cancer

Colposcopy side effects

While a colposcopy is generally considered a safe, minimally invasive procedure, like all medical interventions, it carries some potential risks. These include:

  • Temporary mild discomfort or pain during the procedure, particularly when the cervix is swabbed

  • Light bleeding, which typically resolves on its own and doesn't last long

  • A slight risk of infection, especially if a small sample of tissue is collected

  • Rare occurrences of scarring or narrowing of the cervical opening, known as cervical stenosis, may impact fertility or menstrual flow

Colposcopy procedure overview

Prior to a cervical biopsy, your doctor will talk you through the possible side effects and ask you to sign a consent form to confirm you are aware of the risks and agree to undergo the procedure.

The colposcopist will ask you to remove your clothes from the waist down and make yourself comfortable on the exam table.

During a colposcopy, a speculum (smooth, tube-shaped tool) is gently inserted into the vagina to facilitate access. An instrument called a colposcope (a special magnifying instrument with a light attached) is then used to examine cervical tissues thoroughly.

Liquids will then be put into your cervix to make any abnormal cervical cells clear and visible. A small sample of tissue from your cervix may be removed for testing - you may feel a slight pinch if this is done, but you will be informed before anything is removed.

Importantly, the colposcope remains outside of the body during the procedure. This approach allows for identifying any abnormal features, such as alterations in colour, texture, or blood vessel patterns. If abnormalities are detected, your physician may perform one or more biopsies, involving the collection of small tissue samples for laboratory analysis.

Do I need a colposcopy?

A colposcopy may be recommended if a Pap smear reveals abnormal cells or if visible irregularities are observed on the cervix, vagina, or vulva. We will always provide a clear explanation of why the procedure is recommended and how it may benefit you.

Colposcopy recovery

Recovery from a colposcopy is generally uncomplicated, allowing for a prompt return to normal daily activities. However, you should avoid strenuous exercise, heavy lifting, and sexual intercourse for a day or two.

You may notice a slight increase in vaginal discharge for a few days due to the solutions used during the examination. Some mild discomfort or spotting following the procedure is possible but typically resolves quickly.  

Our team will provide you with post-procedure guidelines and advice before you leave, so you know what to expect and what to do if anything abnormal occurs.

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Colposcopy FAQ's

How should I prepare for the procedure?

Ensure you schedule your appointment outside of your period, as menstrual blood can make it more difficult to get clear visibility of your cervix. Notify us of any allergies, medical conditions, or medications you are taking.

As it's advised you should not have a colposcopy procedure while on your period, you should contact us if you come on unexpectedly and think you will still be on your period at the time of your scheduled appointment. You should also call us if you're pregnant or think you may be pregnant, so our team is aware.

24 hours before your procedure, you should avoid sexual intercourse, tampon use, and vaginal medications.

As it's common to experience some light bleeding, it's recommended you bring a sanitary pad or panty liner with you for after the appointment.

Is a colposcopy painful?
Can I eat or drink before a colposcopy?
Can I drive after a colposcopy?
When will I receive my colposcopy results?
Can a colposcopy be done during pregnancy?

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