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What is a Colposcope?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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A colposcope is a medical device that is used by gynecologists and other physicians to carefully inspect cervical and vaginal tissue. A woman may need to undergo a colposcopy if her doctor believes that she may have cervical or vaginal cancer, dysplasia, severe inflammation, or another medical condition that cannot be diagnosed with other medical tests. The colposcope itself resembles a large microscope with a specialized extension that placed in front of the vagina to magnify and illuminate cervical walls. Gynecologists are able to look through colposcopes to accurately check for abnormal conditions.

The device is comprised of a single or double eyepiece that a doctor can peer into to view the cervix. A light dial and a magnifying dial allow for adjustments in the intensity of illumination, magnification, and focus. The lens that is placed in front of the vagina emits a beam of light that can be aimed at different areas along the cervical wall.

A colposcopy is performed when a woman reports pain or discomfort in her cervix, or when her Pap smear results reveal abnormalities. A gynecologist can carefully inspect cervical surface tissue with a colposcope in order to make a proper diagnosis of human papilloma virus (HPV), dysplasia, cancer, or another condition. The procedure is usually painless and is performed on an outpatient basis. Skilled doctors typically perform colposcopies in less than 20 minutes.

At the start of a procedure, a woman is instructed to lie on her back on a table or specialized reclining chair with her feet secured. A metal device is inserted into the vagina to hold it open during the colposcopy. The physician then positions the lens of the colposcope at the opening of the vagina to illuminate and magnify the area. Looking through an eyepiece, the gynecologist can closely examine tissue to look for discoloration, inflammation, or abnormal cellular growth. If closer inspections are necessary, the cervix may be swabbed with an acidic solution to remove excess mucus.

When an abnormality is discovered with a colposcope, the doctor will carefully scrape a sample of tissue from the surface of the cervix for further analysis. After a biopsy confirms a diagnosis, the gynecologist and the patient can discuss the most appropriate follow-up treatment plans. Inflammation caused by bacterial infections or HPV may be alleviated with oral antibiotics, though precancerous dysplasia or developed cervical cancer may require invasive treatment to remove or destroy abnormal cells.

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