The Ins and Outs of Colposcopy Procedures

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A colposcopy is a simple examination that allows your gynecologist to examine your cervix, vagina and vulva for abnormalities that can’t be seen by the eye alone. It’s usually performed when a routine pap smear shows abnormal cells in your cervix, or when your doctor needs to investigate other gynecological problems such as unexplained vaginal bleeding or non-cancerous growths such as polyps.

How is a colposcopy performed?

As with a pelvic exam, your gynecologist will ask you to undress from the waist down and lie on your back with your knees apart and your feet in stirrups. They’ll then use an instrument called a speculum to hold open your vagina, so that they can see your cervix. With the speculum in place, they’ll paint your cervix with a liquid, which will show any abnormal cells more clearly. They’ll then use a microscope called a colposcope to closely examine the cells on your cervix. The colposcope doesn’t enter your vagina – it stays outside your body at all times.


What happens when abnormalities are found?

If your gynecologist sees anything that looks abnormal, they’ll take a biopsy. This involves removing a small sample of tissue from your cervix for closer examination in a laboratory. The purpose of a biopsy is to help confirm, or rule out, the presence of a specific condition, or if a condition has already been diagnosed, to help assess its severity and determine the best treatment.

If your gynecologist needs to take a biopsy of the inside of your uterus or treat a condition affecting your uterus, they may perform a dilation and curettage (d&c) procedure at the time of your colposcopy. This involves inserting a series of rods to slowly widen your cervix until it allows either a cutting instrument known as a curette or a suction instrument known as an aspirator to pass into your uterus. Your gynecologist will then use the instrument to remove a small of tissue for closer examination in a laboratory.

How are abnormal cells treated with surgical gynecology?

If your gynecologist finds abnormal cells, they may perform surgery immediately or ask you to schedule a return visit for treatment. The most common type of treatment is the loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which uses a heated wire loop to remove abnormal tissue. Your OBGYN will inject a local anesthetic into your cervix, allowing you to be awake throughout the procedure but not experience pain or discomfort. If a large area of your cervix needs treatment, your gynecologist will administer a general anesthetic so that you’re put into a deep sleep and don’t feel any pain or discomfort.

The experts at Complete Women Care and other gynecologists stress the importance of having regular follow-up Pap tests if you are told your results are abnormal. In fact, unless otherwise recommended, you should have a test every 4 to 6 months. Once your tests return to normal, tests may become fewer and far between.

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