Effectiveness of Colposcopy During Menstruation

Woman at the gynecologist for a colposcopy
Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

If you still have periods, it happens. When your doctor scheduled you for a colposcopy procedure you may not have thought you would have your period. What happens if you get your period? Should you reschedule your exam or can your doctor still do a colposcopy when you are menstruating? Can having your period interfere with your results? These are common questions, so don't fret—let's get to the bottom of this concern.

What Is the Colposcopy Procedure?

colposcopy is a procedure which allows doctors to get a closer examination of 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 colposcopy can be simplistically thought of as a Pap smear exam with a microscope). 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. 

Reasons for Doing a Colonoscopy

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). This tissue can then be examined under a microscope to determine if an abnormal area of the cervix is benign, precancerous, or cancerous.

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

There are many different types of abnormalities which may be found on a Pap smear and this can be very confusing. Learn more about abnormal Pap smear terminology such as ASCUS, SIL, AGC, dysplasia, and CIN, as well as the follow-up procedures which are usually recommended for each of these changes.

Effects of Undergoing 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.

Every woman is different, however, and there may be reasons why your doctor would want to go ahead with your colposcopy even with your period, or, on the other hand, reasons why she would prefer you would wait. If you are having abnormal uterine bleeding (dysfunctional uterine bleeding) or spot frequently, it may be necessary to have your colposcopy even with some blood present.

Your doctor will weigh many factors such as the chance that your colposcopy will find serious problems (for very abnormal Pap smears), risk factors you have for cervical cancer, your general health, and more.

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.

What to Expect 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 that 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 or the changes that can progress to cervical cancer are present. 

The Bottom Line

In general, it's best to have a colposcopy procedure when you do not have your period, but rather than simply rescheduling your procedure you should call your doctor's office and ask what they recommend.

There may be times when your doctor will want to go ahead with the test, especially if you are at a lighter stage of your period. If you will need to reschedule your colposcopy, the ideal time appears to be about one week after your menstrual period.

View Article Sources