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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Surgeries and Procedures > Colposcopy


Overview & Description | Preparation & Expectations | Home Care and Complications

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 Pap 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 smears
  • .
  • 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 cancer.
  • 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 fetuses.
  • 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.


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    Colposcopy: Preparation & Expectations

    Author: David T. Moran, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 07/13/01

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