Colposcopy is a simple, 10- to 15-minute professional gyn procedure that is painless and performed in a gynecologist’s office. You are positioned on the examination table like you are for a Pap smear, and an acetic acid (such as common table vinegar) is placed on the cervix.
Your gynecologist may order a colposcopy if your cervix appears abnormal during your pelvic exam and Pap smear, or if you have a history of prenatal DES exposure.
Your physician will use a colposcope — a large, electric microscope that is positioned approximately 30 cm from the vagina — to view your cervix. A bright light on the end of the colposcope lets the gynecologist clearly see the cervix.
During the initial evaluation, a medical history is obtained, including gravidity (number of prior pregnancies), parity (number of prior deliveries), last menstrual period, contraception use, prior abnormal pap smear results, allergies, significant past medical history, other medications, prior cervical procedures, and smoking history. In some cases, a pregnancy test may be performed before the procedure. The procedure is fully described to the patient, questions are asked and answered, and the patient then signs a consent form.
A colposcope is used to identify visible clues suggestive of abnormal tissue. It functions as a lighted binocular microscope to magnify the view of the cervix, vagina, and vulvar surface. Low power (2× to 6×) may be used to obtain a general impression of the surface architecture. Medium (8× to 15×) and high (15× to 25×) powers are utilized to evaluate the vagina and cervix. The higher powers are often necessary to identify certain vascular patterns that may indicate the presence of more advanced pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions. Various light filters are available to highlight different aspects of the surface of the cervix. Acetic acid solution and iodine solution (Lugol’s or Schiller’s) are applied to the surface to improve visualization of abnormal areas.
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After a complete examination, the colposcopist determines the areas with the highest degree of visible abnormality and may obtain biopsies from these areas using a long biopsy instrument, such as a punch forceps or SpiraBrush CX. Most doctors and patients consider anesthesia unnecessary.