The Risks Of Colposcopy

Ivor Benjamin, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
I found your article on colposcopy very informative and interesting. I was concerned about the statements on injury and infection from the procedure.

Could you please elaborate on the potential complications associated with a colposcopy and biopsy of the cervix. Before reading your article, I was under the impression that this procedure was risk free. Any information that you can provide on the complications or risks would be greatly appreciated.  
Thank you.

Ivor Benjamin, MD, Former co-Editor-in-Chief of OncoLink, responds:

Dear S.,
Colposcopy with biopsy is generally considered to be a "safe" procedure. However, no surgical procedure is "risk free". When a patient is considering undergoing a surgical (or medical) therapy, they should always ask about the "risks and benefits" of this treatment. The benefits should outweigh the risks. Sometimes, a low-risk procedure should not be done if the benefits are not real. For example, if you are going to have a tube of blood drawn for a test there are risks—bleeding, possible infection at the site, pain, bruising, etc. If the test offers you substantial benefits then it is worthwhile and the risk is acceptable. However, if the blood test is unnecessary, then the risks, while small, are not acceptable.

For colposcopic directed biopsy, the risks are usually minimal— small amount of bleeding, low likelihood of infection, minor injury, small amount of pain. However, if the colposcopy is not needed in the first place, the risks outweigh the benefits.

It is important that patients question their healthcare providers about the risks and benefits of any surgical, medical or diagnostic procedure. Remember, there is no "free lunch" or "risk free" procedure. If your healthcare provider claims that a procedure is "risk free" this should put up a red flag—there are ALWAYS risks!