Colposcopy and biopsy
If the cervical screening test results show that you have a higher risk of significant cervical changes, you will usually be referred for a colposcopy.
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A colposcopy lets your doctor look closely at the cervix to see where any abnormal or changed cells are and what they look like.
The colposcope is a magnifying instrument that has a light and looks like a pair of binoculars on a large stand. It is placed near your vulva but does not enter your body.
A colposcopy usually takes 10–15 minutes. You will be advised not to have sex or put anything in your vagina (e.g. tampons) for 24 hours before the procedure.
You will lie on your back in an examination chair with your knees up and apart. The doctor will use a speculum to spread the walls of your vagina apart, and then apply a vinegar-like liquid or iodine to your cervix and vagina. This makes it easier to see abnormal cells through the colposcope. You may feel a mild stinging or burning sensation, and you may have a brown discharge from the vagina afterwards.
If the doctor sees any suspicious-looking areas, they will usually take a tissue sample (biopsy) from the surface of the cervix for examination. You may feel uncomfortable for a short time while the tissue sample is taken. You will be able to go home once the colposcopy and biopsy are done. The doctor will send the tissue sample to a laboratory, and a pathologist will examine the cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. The results are usually available in about a week.
After the procedure it is common to experience cramping that feels similar to menstrual pain. Pain is usually short-lived and you can take mild pain medicines such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. You may also have some light bleeding or other vaginal discharge for a few hours.
To allow the cervix to heal and to reduce the risk of infection, your doctor will probably advise you not to have sexual intercourse or use tampons for 2–3 days after a biopsy.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Penny Blomfield, Gynaecological Oncologist, Hobart Women’s Specialists, and Chair, Australian Society of Gynaecological Oncologists, TAS; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland; Prof Martin K Oehler, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Dr Megan Smith, Program Manager – Cervix, Cancer Council NSW; Pauline Tanner, Cancer Nurse Coordinator – Gynaecology, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician, Physiotherapy Department, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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