When your pap smear results come in “abnormal,” it can cause a flurry of mild panic. Fortunately, most abnormal pap results don’t mean anything at all. Perhaps there was still a bit of blood from your period that made its way onto the slide. Maybe you forgot and had sex the night before? However, there are cases where an abnormal pap smear will lead your doctor to recommend a colposcopy in order to see what’s going on around the cervix that caused the abnormal results.
Here are some of the questions we are asked most frequently about colposcopies and we hope the answers will help. If you need more information about the process, feel free to contact us!
- What is a colposcopy? Of course, the first question is – What is a colposcopy? It provides a way for your doctor to get a microscopic view of your cervix so she can see if there are still abnormal cells and, if so, what type of cells they are. The colposcope looks like a large set of binoculars and the procedure is considered noninvasive since the colposcope does not penetrate your body.
- Does a colposcopy hurt? Typically, a colposcopy is pain-free. However, because it may require manipulation of the cervix, it can be uncomfortable. In most cases, it should feel similarly to the sensations you experience during your routine annual exam and pap smear. If you have a low-pain tolerance or you have any type of fear or mental discomfort around doctors, hospitals or the general OB/GYN experience, it can cause the experience to be more painful. Be honest with your doctor about your concerns so she can put you at ease and do her very best to make you as comfortable as possible.
- What does the process entail? The first phase will seem much like your pap test: feet up in the stirrups and the insertion of a speculum to widen the vaginal canal, giving your doctor a clear view of your cervix, which is normally a nice pink color. She will then use a swab soaked in a special vinegar solution. It will be rubbed around your cervix and the vinegar will turn any abnormal cells white. The aforementioned colposcope will be used to get a highly-magnified view of your cervix and to further examine any abnormal cells that show up.
- Will I have to have a biopsy? Not necessarily. Often, the doctor will not see any abnormal cells at all, in which case she will tell you to have a nice day and to schedule an appointment for another pap smear in six months just in case. If your doctor does see abnormal cells, she may opt to do a biopsy right then and there to send a sample of the cells to a lab for further testing.
- What causes abnormal cells? The most typical causes of abnormal cells is cervical dysplasia caused by HPV. If this is the case, your doctor will probably leave things alone since dysplasia often goes away on its own and will advise you if further treatment is required. It may also indicate a bacterial or yeast infection. Abnormal cells may indicate cervical cancer and a biopsy will determine which type of cancer they are so you can decide on your treatment course accordingly.
- What is the recovery like? If your colposcopy does not involve a biopsy, odds are you won’t require any recovery at all. If you feel a little tender or crampy, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen. A little post-procedural spotting is also normal. If a biopsy was done, you may feel sore for up to a few days and bleeding is also normal during this period. Limit your physical activities to match your discomfort. You should avoid sex, using tampons or douching for the few days after your biopsy to let the tissues heal.
- When will I get my results? If you don’t require a biopsy, your results should be given to you by the doctor right then and there. If a biopsy is required, the results typically take 7 to 10 days to come back unless specified otherwise. Always ask your doctor for a number to call in case you don’t receive a call by the end of the specified results period.
Do you have questions regarding an upcoming colposcopy? Contact Women’s Health Associates and we’ll be happy to answer them for you.