A colposcopy is an examination of the cervix that is most often carried out if you have had an abnormal result in your cervical smear test. During a colposcopy, the doctor may perform several different tests in order to identify any abnormal cells and assess the risk of cervical cancer. The doctor is usually looking for cells that are at risk of becoming cancerous, rather than for an existing tumour. Finding and removing the cells can prevent you from developing cervical cancer in the future.
The tests that may be performed during your colposcopy are:
Acetic acid or vinegar can turn abnormal cells in the cervix white. The liquid is sprayed onto the cervix or applied with a cotton swab during the colposcopy. The way the cells react can tell the doctor if there are any abnormalities, where they are located, and whether treatment is necessary. Some of the white cells will be normal, but the doctor can determine which ones need to be removed by consider factors such as how quickly they changed colour, the texture of the cells and the patterns of the blood vessels.
Another test may also be used to pinpoint any abnormal cervical cells, usually in combination with the acetic acid test. In this case, it is the normal cells that will be stained brown by the iodine while the abnormal cells retain their usual colour. The doctor can then easily locate the abnormal cells so that they can be removed if necessary.
A biopsy may be performed during the colposcopy to remove any suspicious cells. The sample can then be tested in the lab to confirm that the cells were abnormal.
The results of the different tests will enable the doctor to locate any abnormal cells in your cervix that might need to be removed. It is often possible to remove all of the abnormal cells during the colposcopy, but in some cases further treatment may be required. The results of the colposcopy will help the doctor to guide you towards the right treatment options.