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The cervix forms the lower part of the womb and is located at the top of the vagina, or birth canal. A cervix biopsy, or cervical biopsy, is a procedure where a sample of tissue is taken from the cervix. It is usually carried out as part of a colposcopy examination, where a doctor uses a magnifying instrument to view the cervix. A colposcopy typically takes place when abnormal cervical cells have been detected on a Pap smear. If the cervix also appears abnormal during colposcopy, taking a cervix biopsy allows a suspicious area to be examined more closely under a microscope and helps the doctor decide what sort of treatment is required.
Colposcopy and cervix biopsy are important in cervical cancer prevention. Together with Pap smears, these types of cervix procedures can allow abnormal cells to be picked up early, before they have a chance to become cancerous. In many cases, abnormalities found on a Pap smear are mild and often return to normal by themselves, in which case the only treatment required will be further follow-up smears. When the cell changes are more abnormal, a colposcopy examination becomes necessary.
A colposcopy procedure is carried out with the patient positioned comfortably on a couch or chair. First, the vagina is held open using an instrument called a speculum. Next, the doctor looks at the cervix using the colposcope, a magnifying instrument which resembles binoculars. The colposcope does not touch or enter the body, but allows the doctor to view the cervix in detail. A liquid is applied to the cervix that makes any areas of abnormal cells more visible and a cervix biopsy is taken from each of these areas.
The cervix biopsy removes only a tiny piece of tissue no bigger than a pinhead. Sometimes, there may be a slight vaginal discharge for a number of days after the procedure. The results of the biopsy are not always available immediately, and it may be necessary to wait to see what treatment is recommended.
Treatment following a cervix biopsy depends on the type of abnormal changes found. If pre-cancerous changes are present, in most cases a simple treatment can be used which does not require a stay in the hospital. There are a number of different types of minor cervix surgery which may be carried out.
For milder changes, the options include laser therapy to destroy abnormal cells and cryotherapy to freeze them. If changes are more severe, a procedure called a cone biopsy or a LEEP, or loop electrosurgical excision procedure, may be used to cut out an abnormal area. Most often, the outlook is positive following these treatments and the abnormal cells do not return. In rarer cases where cancer is found, the womb is usually removed in an operation known as a hysterectomy.