• What Is A Colposcopy?
Medical Tests For Women
Recommended Health Screenings
|What Is A Colposcopy?
A colposcopy is a medical technique for examining the cervix and vagina using a magnifying instrument called a colposcope. Colposcopies are generally only done if a Pap smear test comes back with an abnormal result. Some types of gynecological cancers, such as cervical cancer and vaginal cancer can be detected through this examination. When cancer or precancer changes are suspected, a tissue sample can be taken for biopsy. Biopsies done by colposcopy are particularly accurate because the colposcope magnifies inside the vagina by 5 to 30 times. This allows the gynecologist to find and remove a sample of the most abnormal looking tissue for biopsy. Furthermore, colposcopy-guided biopsies are less risky and less expensive than surgical procedures like cone biopsy.
A pap smear test is a routine health screening women have to check for signs of cervical cancer. It may also be referred to as cervical screening. During the pap test, a sample of cells are taken from the cervix and sent to a lab for testing. In a small number of cases abnormal cervical cells (technically called cervical dysplasia) are found. In most instances the abnormalities are caused by the presence of an STD called human papilloma virus (HPV). Regular screening helps ensure that any such changes are detected early, and treated if required before they have a chance to turn cancerous. About 1 in 10 pap tests reveal abnormal cell changes. 1 in 20 of these are mild and require no treatment because they return to normal by themselves. Your pap test will reveal if HPV is present, and if so, which strain (some are more high risk than others). If your test shows mild cell changes plus high risk HPV you will be referred for a colposcopy as a precaution. If it shows mild changes and low risk HPV, you won't need a colposcopy. If there are moderate or severe cell changes, regardless of HPV status, you will need a colposcopy.
The main goal of colposcopy is to detect cervical cancer in it's early and most curable stages. However, it may also be used to investigate:
1. Schedule a colposcopy when you don't have a period. The best time is 8 to 12 days after the first day of your last period.
A colposcope is performed in your gynecologist’s office and takes about 20 minutes. The patient lies on her back, with her legs in stirrups and her buttocks at the lower edge of the table (known as the dorsal lithotomy position). The doctor examines the vulva first for any suspicious lesions and then places a speculum inside the vagina. The speculum opens the vagina, and keeps it open so that the doctor can work. Next the vagina and cervix is washed with acetic acid (smells like vinegar). The colposcope is moved close to the entrance of the vagina, it never enters the body. Through this instrument the doctor will look for any abnormalities. A small tissue sample may be removed for biopsy. The procedure does not hurt, although some women find the speculum uncomfortable after a period of time.
There are no serious risks or complications associated with colposcopy. If a biopsy is performed there may be some minor spotting or cramping. There is also a risk of urinary tract infection.
It can take 2 to 3 weeks for your biopsy results (colposcopic findings) to come back. When they are ready your doctor will call you back in to discuss the results and possible treatments. From this point onwards he will start to refer to your dysplasia as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (or CIN for short!). There are 3 categories of CIN, your biopsy result will show which one you have:
A colposcopy is safe to perform in pregnancy. See cervical changes in pregnancy for more information.
|Related Articles on Diagnostic Testing
For more on useful information, see the following:
• Reproductive system disorders: A to Z of symptoms.
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