Colposcopy is a medical procedure that facilitates close examination of the cervix, vagina and vulva for doctors. Doctors use a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope to examine the patient. The test is typically recommended to patients whose Pap smear or other cervical screening findings are abnormal.
In this article, we will delve into the important aspects of colposcopy, including its purpose, procedure, benefits, cost, side effects, and more.
What is Colposcopy?
It is a diagnostic procedure that facilitates a close examination of a female’s reproductive organs, the cervix, vagina and vulva. The purpose of this test is to detect any abnormal growths such as precancerous and cancerous cells. The colposcope helps identify these abnormal areas by magnifying the tissues. Depending on the results, the doctor will advise further investigations or treatment if needed.
Who Should Undergo Colposcopy Test?
Generally, the test is suggested to patients who have had Pap smear or other cervix screening test and were detected with abnormalities, indicating potential cancerous or noncancerous cells growth. Moreover, a doctor may also advise the test to those who are at a risk of developing cervical cancer, including patients with a medical history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HPV (human papillomavirus).
Colposcopy Test Before or During Pregnancy
In certain cases, the test can also be advised to some women before or during pregnancy. If an abnormal Pap smear or other tests indicate concerning findings in a pregnant woman or a woman trying to conceive, the doctor can suggest taking this test.
From conception to childbirth, the cervix plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy pregnancy. The cervix protects the developing baby. It keeps the baby safe and secure in the uterus throughout pregnancy. The cervix also goes through dramatic changes during the labor which is called the ripening or effacement process. During this process, the cervix opens up so that the patient can deliver the baby.
Therefore, if the cervix has some abnormal non-cancerous or cancerous growths, it may affect the baby’s development and birth. And, for this reason, doctors often recommend women before or during pregnancy to take a precautionary colposcopy test.
Colposcopy Procedure: Step-by-Step
The step by step procedure for the test is as follows:
- Preparing for the test: Before starting with the procedure, the doctor asks the patient to urinate and empty the bladder. Then, similarly in a routine gynecological checkup, the patient is asked to lay on the examination table while placing the feet on the stirrups.
- Highlighting abnormal areas: Now, the doctor will initiate the procedure. He or she will apply an iodine or vinegar solution to highlight any abnormal areas on the cervix, vagina and vulva.
- Examining with the colposcope: The doctor uses the colposcope, the magnifying instrument for examining the cervix, vagina and vulva. During the examination, the colposcope is placed around the opening of the vagina and the doctor uses it to examine the cervix and its surrounding tissues more closely.
- Taking a biopsy: Not necessarily in every case, in some cases as needed, the doctor might take a biopsy from the abnormal areas. This involves collecting a small tissue sample from the affected area for further investigation. The patient might need to be sedated with local anesthesia to numb the area before taking the biopsy.
Benefits of Colposcopy Test
It offers several benefits including:
- Allows timely medical intervention by detecting abnormal or precancerous cells at an early stage.
- Determining the need of further diagnosis or treatment.
- Managing cervical health by monitoring changes over time.
- Help diagnosing cervical cancer or other abnormalities.
A number of factors including the location, the healthcare facility, and need for additional tests or procedures can influence the cost of a colposcopy test in India.
On average, the basic cost of the test in India would range approximately from ₹1500 to ₹5000. Though the said cost is estimated and variable depending on the inclusion or exclusion of follow-up consultations, biopsies or laboratory fees. It is advised that the patient check with different healthcare providers or hospitals in the locality to get precise pricing information.
Colposcopy Associated Risks and Side Effects
The procedure is typically a safe diagnostic procedure and likelihood of developing complications are quite low. However, it has some associated risks and common side effects that include:
- Experiencing mild cramps or discomfort during the procedure.
- Having light bleeding from vagina for a few days after taking the biopsy.
- Developing allergic reactions or infection due to the solutions used during the procedure.
- Feeling distress or anxiety
While mild discomfort and light vaginal bleeding are common after the test, you should communicate immediately with your doctor if you experience:
- Heavy and prolonged vaginal bleeding
- Severe vaginal pain or signs of infection such as fever or unpleasantly smelling discharge.
- Excessive distress or anxiety.
How to Prepare for a Colposcopy Test?
To prepare for the test, the patient should obey the following guidelines:
- Do not schedule the appointment during periods (menstrual cycles).
- Inform your doctor and colposcopist of any medications, drugs or supplements you are currently taking, including herbal products as well.
- Refrain from engaging in sexual intercourses, using douches, vaginal medications or tampons for at least a day before the procedure.
What to Expect from Colposcopy?
It is typically a minimally invasive procedure and barely takes 10-20 minutes to be performed. You will have to lay down on your back with your feet on stirrups as you generally do during gynecological examinations or the Pap smear test. During the procedure, you may experience mild pressure or discomfort.
Performing biopsy is not mandatory along with colposcopy. Biopsy is only performed in cases when the doctor detects a suspicious growth and requires a sample tissue to further investigate it. If needed, the doctor takes a small piece from the suspicious area through a sharp biopsy instrument attached with the colposcope. During biopsy, the patient may feel a pinch or mild cramp and have light vaginal bleeding.
After the test, patients can expect the following:
- Light vaginal bleeding: Light vaginal bleeding is common, more likely in cases when a biopsy sample is taken. Following the procedure, the bleeding may happen for a few days and on its own. It is recommended to use pads instead of tampons during the period.
- Mild discomfort and cramping: It is also common to experience mild discomfort and cramping after the procedure for a while. However, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help manage the pain. Still, if the patient has persistent and severe pain, immediately consulting with a doctor is recommended.
- Rest: Taking rest after the procedure is advised for faster recovery. For a few days, avoid strenuous activities, heavy lifting or high intensity training.
- Return to normal activities: Most patients are good to resume their normal day-to-day activities after a few days of taking the test. However, the patient must obey if the doctor has given other specific instructions.
- Follow-up appointments: Depending on the findings of the procedure, the patient may be asked to visit the doctor for follow-up appointments. If any non-specific abnormalities are found, the patient may also have to take other tests.
Individual experiences can be different and therefore it is important that the patient is in touch with the doctor to seek their advice and assistance if they encounter any specific concerns or have questions after the test.
When to Expect Colposcopy Test Results?
Typically, the results of the test, either with or without biopsies become available within a week or two. Depending on the findings, the doctor may schedule further appointments and order other investigative procedures.
The Bottom Line
Colposcopy is undoubtedly a valuable diagnostic procedure that helps identify and evaluable abnormal cervical changes. The test is typically recommended to patients whose Pap smear findings are abnormal or is at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. By understanding colposcopy, its procedure, benefits, risks and side effects, and what to expect from it, the patient can approach the procedure with confidence ensuring early diagnosis and appropriate medical assistance if needed.
Moreover, if you still have any concerns or questions regarding the test or your reproductive health, you can consult with your doctor for personalized guidance and support.