If you received an abnormal result from your pap smear, odds are your Ob-Gyn is going to call and schedule you for a colposcopy. If this happens to you, don’t panic. It’s fairly common to get an “abnormal result” from a pap smear, and it doesn’t automatically mean you have a serious issue or cancer. Read, Should You Worry About an Abnormal Pap Smear?, to learn more about the various reasons your pap may have come back “abnormal.”
That being said, any abnormal result from a pap smear requires further examination and diagnosis, and scheduling a colposcopy is the most common “next step” for you.
What Is a Colposcopy?
This minimally-invasive procedure allows your doctor to get a closer and more detailed look at your vulva, cervix, and vagina. It also allows him/her to take a tissue sample if s/he notices areas of abnormal cells that should be biopsied by the lab.
The instrument used by your doctor to perform the colposcopy is called a colposcope. It uses a combination of a speculum (to hold your vagina open), a light to provide illumination, magnifying lenses (so your doctor can get a magnified view of your tissue and cells), and a sharp, and a biopsy instrument used to cut away a sample of abnormal or irregular cells to be analyzed by the lab.
The first step of the procedure is similar to a typical pelvic exam and pap smear. You’ll lay on your back on the examination table with your feet in the stirrups. Once your settled, the doctor will position the colposcope between your legs.
- The procedure typically takes between 10 and 15 minutes
- Once the speculum is in place, your doctor will swab the vulva and the interior of your vagina with a cotton swab to wipe it clean. S/he may also apply a vinegar or similar solution designed to highlight irregular cells.
- The doctor will turn on the light and look through the magnifying lenses, which resemble binoculars, carefully examining the tissue of the vulva, cervix, and vagina for any irregular cells, discolorations, or growths that may indicate something is amiss.
If you need a biopsy
If your doctor notices any irregularities on your cervix or inside your vagina, s/he will use the biopsy tool to cut away a small sample of tissue for lab analysis. If there is more than one questionable area, the doctor may perform multiple biopsies, so each area is analyzed separately.
Do biopsies hurt?
Biopsies require cutting a shallow nick out of your tissue, so it can cause discomfort – and it is likely to cause some spotting or bleeding until the site heals. Most women find that cervical biopsies cause very little to no real pain or irritation. However, biopsies of the vulva and lower vagina can be painful. The good news here is that your doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the tissue beforehand.
Will I bleed?
If your colposcopy results in a biopsy:
- You may experience slight pain or discomfort for 1 to 3 days if you had a vulvar or vaginal biopsy
- You may minimally spot or bleed for up to two or three days as the site heals
- You may experience more-than-normal discharge from your vagina for a day or two, and this is completely normal
When will I get my results?
If your doctor fails to mention it to you, make sure to ask when you can expect results. You can also request a number to call if you don’t hear back in a few days to a week and want to check-in independently. When it comes to pap smears, no news is usually good news. With biopsies, however, doctors typically report both positive and negative results to ease patients’ anxiety and worry.
Hopefully, the results from your colposcopy are benign but remember that early diagnosis is the key to quicker and more effective treatment. Never put off an appointment if your doctor recommends a colposcopy.