ZocdocAnswersWhat is a colposcopy?

Question

What is a colposcopy?

After I got back some unusual results from my pap smear, my OB GYN said that I should probably get a colposcopy. I know it's a procedure to figure out the problem, but how does it work? Is it painful? I'm only 24 - what kind of results I should expect?

Answer

Pap smears are performed to examine the cells from the cervix, or bottom portion of the uterus. These tests have become standard screening procedures as they are effective in detecting cervical cancer or changes in the cells that can signify an eventual transformation into cervical cancer. Sometimes a result will come back that requires further examination with a colposcopy, which is an exam that your doctor will perform that allows for direct visualization of the cervix (as well as vagina and vulva) with the help of magnifying binoculars. The patient is placed in the same position as for a Pap smear, and a speculum is inserted as usual. Then, a solution consisting of acetic acid is applied to the cervix, which causes areas with abnormal cells to turn white. These areas are usually biopsied. To decrease discomfort from the biopsy, topical anesthesia (such as lidocaine) is often used. For patients in which several biopsies need to be obtained, a nerve block may be performed by your doctor. Your doctor may also choose to do an endocervical curettage as well, in which a narrow tool called a curette is used to scrape cells from the inside of the cervix. This procedure may cause mild cramping. Patients may have some mild discomfort for a few days, and if biopsies are obtained, mild bleeding or discharge may occur for a several days. Depending on the results of the colposcopy, patients may need more frequent screening with Pap smears or further procedures may need to be performed, such as removal of abnormal tissue through cryotherapy or LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure).

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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