Colposcopy is a procedure that allows a physician to examine a woman’s cervix and vagina using a special microscope called a colposcope. It is used to check for precancerous or abnormal areas.
Colposcopy is used to identify or rule out the existence of any precancerous conditions in the cervical tissue. If a Pap test shows abnormal cell growth, colposcopy is usually the first follow-up test performed. The physician will attempt to find the area that produced the abnormal cells and remove it for further study (biopsy) and diagnosis.
Colposcopy is used in the emergency department to examine victims of sexual assault and abuse and document any physical evidence of vaginal injury.
An instrument called a speculum is inserted to hold the vagina open, and the gynaecologist looks at the cervix and vagina using a colposcope, a low-power microscope designed to magnify the cervix 10-40 times its normal size. Most colposcopes are connected to a video monitor that displays the area of interest. Photographs are taken during the examination to document abnormal areas.
The colposcope is placed outside the patient’s body and never touches the skin. The cervix and vagina are swabbed with dilute acetic acid (vinegar). The solution highlights abnormal areas by turning them white (instead of a normal pink color). Abnormal areas can also be identified by looking for a characteristic pattern made by abnormal blood vessels.
If any abnormal areas are seen, the doctor will take a biopsy of the tissue, a common procedure that takes about 15 minutes. Several samples might be taken, depending on the size of the abnormal area. A biopsy may cause temporary discomfort and cramping, which usually go away within a few minutes. If the abnormal area appears to extend inside the cervical canal, a scraping of the canal may also be done. The biopsy results are usually available within a week.
If the tissue sample indicates abnormal growth (dysplasia) or is precancerous, and if the entire abnormal area can be seen, the doctor can destroy the tissue using one of several procedures, including ones that use high heat (diathermy), extreme cold (cryosurgery), or lasers. Another procedure, called a loop electrosurgical excision (LEEP), uses low-voltage, high-frequency radio waves to excise tissue. If any of the abnormal tissue is within the cervical canal, a cone biopsy (removal of a conical section of the cervix for inspection) will be needed.
Women who are pregnant, or who suspect that they are pregnant, must tell their doctor before the procedure begins. Pregnant women may undergo colposcopy if they have an abnormal Pap test; special precautions, however, must be taken during biopsy of the cervix.
Colposcopy does not require any anaesthetics medication because pain is minimal. If a biopsy is done, there may be mild cramps or a sharp pinching when the tissue is removed.
If a biopsy was done, there may be a dark vaginal discharge afterwards. After the sample is removed, the doctor applies Monsel’s solution to the area to stop the bleeding. When this mixes with blood, it creates a black fluid that looks like coffee grounds. This fluid may be present for a couple of days after the procedure. It is also normal to have some spotting after colposcopy. Pain-relieving medication can be taken to lessen any postprocedural cramping.
If visual inspection shows that the surface of the cervix is smooth and pink, this is considered normal. Areas that look abnormal may actually be normal variations; a biopsy will indicate whether the tissue is normal or abnormal.
By Kamla Nagar