Colposcopy: what is it?
What is colposcopy?
Colposcopy is a method of examining the part of the womb (the cervix) that is visible within the vagina using illuminated magnification. The viewing instrument used is a binocular microsocope called a colposcope, which can examine the cervix under different degrees of magnification.
Why colposcopy should be done
It is performed to identify early cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in the cervix.
When it should be done?
Colposcopy is usually performed after abnormal cells have been detected by a cervical smear test. It may also be performed when smears have repeatedly shown inflammation or infection of the cervix or by the abnormal appearance of the cervix during a vaginal examination.
How colposcopy is performed
The procedure requires no anesthetic and is very similar to having a cervical smear but takes a little longer.
The women lies on her back with her legs apart. The vagina is gently held apart with a speculum, so that the doctor can see the opening of the cervix.
A solution is applied to the area of the cervix, so pre-cancerous areas show up.
A light is then shone on the cervix and the doctor looks through the colposcope (which stays outside the body) to check for any suspicious cells. If any pre-cancerous or early cancerous cells are detected a small sample of tissue will be removed (biopsy) from the cervix for examination under the microscope.
It is recommended that women are not having a period at the time of the colposcopy as the cervix may not be visible.
When the procedure shows an obvious abnormality or a positive biopsy, the woman may be treated straight after the colposcopy examination. The most common treatment is the LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone).
This method uses an electric loop to remove the abnormal cells. In general, LLETZ is performed under local anesthetic, although occasionally it is done under general anesthetic.
If the biopsy shows high-grade changes sometimes a cone biopsy is used. This treatment removes a small cone shaped piece of tissue from the cervix. It is used to provide a larger sample for assessment. A cone biopsy usually requires a general anesthetic.