What is a Colposcopy and Why Would I Need One?

What is a Colposcopy and Why Would I Need One?

A colposcopy further checks for signs of cervical cancer after you receive an abnormal Pap smear. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the most common cause of an abnormal Pap smear.

Pap smears are designed to detect cervical cancer at the earliest stages when it’s easier to treat. It can also detect abnormal changes to cervical cells that have a high risk of becoming cancer.

If your most recent Pap smear returned an abnormal result, a colposcopy is often the next step.

Here at Innovative Women’s Care, OB/GYN Marguerite Brathwaite, MD, FACOG, provides patient-centered, whole-woman obstetric and gynecological care to women in and around Las Vegas, Nevada.

If you have an abnormal Pap smear, Dr. Brathwaite will ensure that you understand the next steps. A colposcopy goes beyond the Pap smear to aid in an accurate diagnosis. It's a relatively painless procedure that works similarly to a Pap smear. Let's talk about why you might need this gynecological procedure.

Why do I need a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is used to look for abnormal cells in your cervix, vagina, or vulva that could lead to cancer. A colposcope, a lighted and magnified instrument, is used to assist your gynecologist in detecting abnormal or cancerous cells, as well as genital warts and polyps. A colposcopy is very similar to a colonoscopy, except it is performed on your vaginal and cervical areas, as well as your vulva.

Isn't a Pap smear supposed to do this?

A Pap smear is not the same as a colposcopy. A Pap smear is a test that takes a sample of cervical cells and looks for cancer. If your Pap smear is abnormal, your provider can use a colposcopy to look for abnormal or cancerous cells under highly magnified conditions. The colposcopy uses a visual examination to find abnormal cells while the Pap uses a lab test to determine if the cells are normal.

What to expect

Dr. Brathwaite will schedule a colposcopy when you are not having your period. We may also advise you to avoid over-the-counter pain relievers as well as any vaginal creams, foams, or medications for up to two days before the procedure.

The colposcopy will feel like a Pap smear. You’ll lie down on the exam table with your feet in stirrups. We'll open your vagina with a speculum so Dr. Brathwaite can see your cervix better. The vulva, vagina, and cervix will be cleansed and the colposcope is placed in front of the vagina.

The colposcope magnifies the image and Dr. Brathwaite sees the tissues on the cervix and vaginal walls more clearly. In some cases, Dr. Brathwaite will take a small sample of tissue for lab examination. This is called a cervical biopsy.

What happens after a colposcopy?

A common infection with the human papillomavirus (a virus that causes genital warts) is the most common reason for an abnormal Pap result. If abnormal cells are found on the vulva, inside the vagina, or on the cervix, Dr. Brathwaite may perform a biopsy. 

Following the colposcopy, you may experience vaginal discharge, including blood, as well as mild cramping or soreness. You should not experience any excessive bleeding or pain.

Dr. Brathwaite will speak with you directly about the results of the colposcopy or any biopsy. If the results of the colposcopy indicate the possibility of cancer, this will be discussed as well, with appropriate referrals and treatment plans in place, including additional testing and treatment here at Innovative Women’s Care. Keep in mind that the vast majority of abnormal results are not due to cervical cancer. 

To learn more and for all of your obstetric and gynecological needs give us a call 702-936-4027 to schedule a visit with Dr. Brathwaite.