WHAT IS A COLPOSCOPY?
Colposcopy is a procedure used in conjunction with the Pap test (cancer detection) to diagnose abnormalities of the female reproductive organs, primarily the cervix and the vagina. It is used most frequently if the pap smear results suggest that further evaluation is indicated.
Colposcopy is conducted with an instrument called the colposcope. This is a low-powered microscope which does NOT touch or enter the body. This is a "looking" procedure which allows the doctor to see the cervix and walls of the vagina in much greater detail than would be possible with the naked eye. There is no pain. A speculum (the metal instrument used for most pelvic examinations) is inserted into the vagina. A pap smear may be taken and the cervix is cleansed with a vinegar solution. The colposcope is then used to visualize the cervix and or walls of the vagina. If abnormal areas are seen, biopsies (samples of tissue) are taken for laboratory study. The use of a colposcope in no way affects a woman or her childbearing capabilities. It takes approximately ten minutes to complete the examination.
After the examination, the doctor will discuss her findings with you. Laboratory results will be available in about 3-4 days. You will be contacted by phone for a follow-up visit to discuss those findings or for corrective treatment, medication, or surgical treatment. DO NOT PANIC. Most patients are easily treated in the office with minimal discomfort.
DYSPLASIA -- a reversible precancerous condition involving the presence of abnormal cells on the uterine cervix. Over a period of time (months - years) dysplasia can stay the same, resolve on its own or progress to cancer. Since we can't predict its trend, we feel obligated to evaluate and treat or carefully watch all cervical dysplasias. If your dysplasia is MILD, we may just carefully follow you. Over 65% of these cases will go away on their own. If your dysplasia is MODERATE or SEVERE, we may suggest a procedure to remove the abnormal tissue.
DES EXPOSURE. Between 1940 and 1971 DES (diethylstilbestrol) and other synthetic estrogens were given to pregnant women who had problems such as frequent miscarriages, diabetes, and other complications of pregnancy. In 1971 studies showed an association, although very small, between intrauterine exposure to DES and the development of vaginal and cervical cancer. However, noncancerous changes appear in the vagina and on the cervix of the majority of those exposed.
IMPORTANCE OF PAP SMEARS
Every year, thousands of new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the US and the pap smear is our #1 diagnostic tool. If this cancer is found early enough it can be cured by simple methods.
There are certain HIGH RISK FACTORS which studies have shown may increase a woman's chances of developing cervical cancer:
In March 1990, the American Cancer Society suggested that women who were not in the HIGH RISK group have a pap smear every 3 years. We strongly recommend that an HPV test be done at the same time. If your pap and HPV are negative, you can safely have a pap every 3 years. If you are high risk (have HPV for example), we will pap you more frequently. This will help to stamp out cancer or at least diagnose it in its earliest stage when it is easiest to treat and when the cure rate is the highest.
See Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) for further information
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