Colposcopy involves the use of a special lighted microscope to magnify the
surface of the cervix during a pelvic
examination. The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus and
contains the opening from the uterus to the vagina.
Who is a candidate for the procedure?
A colposcopy may be used in combination with a cervical biopsy to detect cancer of the cervix or precancerous changes known
as cervical dysplasia. A
cervical biopsy is usually done after a woman has abnormal results from a
smear that is done as part of a
pelvic examination. A Pap smear is a test in which the provider
uses a small spatula and a brush to gently scrape cells from the woman's
cervix. These cells are sent to a lab for testing. The Pap smear may show
early, abnormal, cancer-like changes in the cells of the cervix.
A woman should have a colposcopy, as well as a cervical biopsy, if the following conditions apply:
She has 2 consecutive abnormal Pap
She has a suspicious-looking lesion on the cervix or vagina, with or
without an abnormal Pap smear.
Her Pap smear suggests the presence of human papilloma virus, or
HPV. This virus can cause genital warts and is linked to the
development of cervical
She has extensive genital warts on her vulva, which are the lips at the
opening of the vagina.
She was exposed to DES in her mother's uterus.
Diethylstilbestrol, a potent medication to prevent miscarriages,
has been associated with abnormal changes in the cervix of women exposed to DES while they were
She has had one abnormal Pap smear that suggested moderately abnormal
tissue growth or more severely abnormal cells.
How is the procedure performed?
A colposcopy is done with the woman lying on her back with her feet in
stirrups. The healthcare provider places a speculum inside the woman's vagina.
This instrument helps enlarge the opening of the vagina, which allows the
provider to see the cervix and vaginal interior.
The healthcare provider uses the colposcope to magnify and examine the cervix
and vagina. To make cells more visible under the colposcope, the provider puts
a mild solution of vinegar on the area. Sometimes the healthcare provider also uses
a solution of weak iodine.
If a cervical biopsy is
being done at the same time as the colposcopy, the healthcare provider takes small
bits of tissue, or a biopsy, from suspicious areas. The technique is called
cervical punch biopsy. The woman may feel a brief pinch or cramp. The
healthcare provider records the location of the abnormal areas and sends the
tissue sample or samples to a lab to be viewed under a microscope.