Effectiveness of Colposcopy During Menstruation

Woman at the gynecologist
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Imagine your doctor scheduled you for a colposcopy exam during the time that you will likely be having your menstrual period. Should you reschedule or can the doctor do a colposcopy while you are having your period?

This is a common question, so don't fret—let's get to the bottom of this concern. 

What is a Colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a means of more closely examining a woman's cervix. During a colposcopy, a doctor will first use a speculum to hold the walls of the vagina open (exactly the same process used during a routine pelvic examination).

Then, the doctor will use an instrument called a colposcope, which is placed just outside the vagina.

As a magnifying device, the colposcope contains a light that is shined into the vagina and onto the cervix. A weak solution of acetic acid is also applied to the cervix using a cotton swab, which allows the doctor to detect abnormal cells. Sometimes this can cause mild burning. 

Typically a colposcopy is performed if a woman is found to have abnormal cells on her pap smear. During a colposcopy, the doctor may take a cervical biopsy (a small tissue sample that can be examined under a microscope to determine if an abnormal area of the cervix is benign, pre- cancerous, or cancerous).

Your doctor may also recommend a colposcopy if she finds that you have an inflamed cervix, genital warts, growths on your cervix, or any symptoms that may be suspicious for cervical cancer like abnormal pain or bleeding.

Can You Undergo A Colposcopy During Your Period?

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Cancer Society, it is best that a colposcopy is done when a woman is not having her menstrual period. This is because during menstruation, visualizing the cervix can be compromised.

 

That being said, if you are at the very end or very beginning of your cycle or your bleeding is very light, your doctor may wish to proceed. If you are not sure whether you should have the exam, it is best to call your doctor's office. They can give you the best advice on whether you should reschedule your appointment or not.

In addition, it's useful to know that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology also recommends that a woman does not douche, use tampons or vaginal medications, or have sexual intercourse for at least 24 hours before the colposcopy.

After a Colposcopy

For a few days after a colposcopy, you may have a dark vaginal discharge. Some light bleeding is normal, and you may feel sore and crampy. If a biopsy was performed, you should not insert anything into your vagina for a week, including tampons, douches, and creams. In addition, you should refrain from sexual activity.

Rarely, a colposcopy can cause complications. The risk of complications is minimal, but if you experience any of the following, you should call your doctor:

  • Heavy or prolonged bleeding
  • Fever
  • Signs of vaginal infection
  • Pelvic pain

If your doctor schedules you for a colposcopy, it's important you have this procedure.

Remember, the pap smear is just a screening test—a colposcopy with a biopsy is needed to determine whether cervical cancer is present. 

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (December 2016). Tests for Cervical Cancer

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (April 2015). Colposcopy

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