Colposcopy and biopsy
A colposcopy is a way of looking closely at the cervix and vagina to see if there are any abnormal or changed cells. It is done by a colposcopist, who is usually a gynaecologist or, in some clinics, a nurse practitioner.
A colposcopy takes about 10–15 minutes. You will usually be advised not to have sex or put anything in your vagina (e.g. tampons) for 24 hours before the procedure.
This procedure is done with an instrument called a colposcope, which is a microscope with a light. The colposcope is placed near your vulva but does not enter your body.
You will lie on your back in an examination chair with your knees up and apart. The colposcopist will use a speculum to spread the walls of your vagina apart, and then apply a vinegar-like liquid and 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 colposcopist sees any suspicious-looking areas, they will usually take a tissue sample (biopsy) from the surface of the cervix. 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 tissue sample is sent 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 have cramping that feels similar to menstrual pain. This may last a short time and can be relieved with mild pain medicines such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. You may also have some light bleeding or other vaginal discharge for up to a week.
To give the cervix time to heal and to reduce the risk of infection, your colposcopist will probably advise you not to have sexual intercourse or use tampons for up to a week after the procedure.
Podcast: Tests and Cancer
Dr Pearly Khaw, Lead Radiation Oncologist, Gynae-Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Deborah Neesham, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Frances Perry House, VIC; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, VIC; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Krystle Drewitt, Consumer; Shannon Philp, Nurse Practitioner, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, NSW; Dr Robyn Sayer, Gynaecological Oncologist Cancer Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Megan Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Council NSW; Melissa Whalen, Consumer.
We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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