What is a Colposcopy?

Colposcopy is a procedure to look at the surface of the vulva, vagina, and cervix following an abnormal Pap test. If an abnormality is seen during colposcopy, a small sample of tissue (biopsy) may be taken from the cervix or from inside the opening of the cervix (endocervical canal). The sample is examined under a microscope for abnormal cells.

How is it done?

A colposcopy can usually be performed on an outpatient basis in our office. Your CHCW physician will use a lighted magnifying instrument that looks like a pair of binoculars (colposcope). The colposcope magnifies the view 2 to 60 times, allowing the doctor to see abnormalities that would be missed by the naked eye. A camera can be attached to the colposcope to take pictures or videos of the vagina and cervix for a permanent record.

Your doctor will apply vinegar (acetic acid), and sometimes iodine (Lugol’s solution), to the vagina and cervix with a swab or cotton balls to make areas of abnormal cells more visible. If biopsies are collected, they can be examined under a microscope to determine if the abnormality may be cancerous or likely to lead to cancer (precancerous).

Several factors increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cell changes that can lead to cancer of the cervix. These risk factors include:

  • A personal history of precancerous changes of the cervix or cervical cancer.
  • Being infected with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Having a previous abnormal Pap test.
  • Starting sexual intercourse at an early age (younger than 18 years old).
  • Having three or more sex partners in a lifetime or a partner who has had multiple sex partners.
  • Having a weakened immune system.
  • Smoking.
  • Use of birth control pills (oral contraceptives) for more than 5 years.