A colposcopy is an evaluation of the cervix and the vaginal canal that uses a specially lighted magnifying device (called a colposcope) to assess areas of abnormal tissue or other possible signs of disease. It's typically performed following an abnormal Pap test or HPV test result to obtain additional tissue samples for evaluation under a microscope. A colposcopy may also be performed during a routine pelvic exam when a sore or other abnormality is discovered or in patients who have specific conditions like human papillomavirus (HPV) infections.
Colposcopy is performed in much the same manner as a routine pelvic exam. During the exam, the patient lies on her back and a lubricated speculum is used to gently widen the vaginal canal. A special solution is applied to the surface of the cervix and vaginal canal to highlight areas of abnormal tissue. Next, the colposcope is positioned by the opening of the vaginal canal so the light can be directed toward the cervix and the area can be closely evaluated. When an area of abnormal tissue is identified, small tissue samples or biopsies may be collected for assessment. A camera may also be attached to the colposcope to record images of the area. Most colposcopies take less than a half hour to perform.
Colposcopies are painless, but there may be some mild discomfort when a biopsy is taken. A local anesthetic may be used to numb the area to reduce discomfort.
Pap tests are performed to look for early signs of cervical cancer, and some abnormal results can indicate the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells. However, most abnormal Pap test results are due to other causes, including infection with HPV, yeast infections or hormonal fluctuations.
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