Although cells on your cervix grow and change all the time, it can be a scary thing to find out that some of the cells have become abnormal. This can be an early warning sign that cancer may occur. When you receive test results with abnormal cervix cells, your doctor may suggest the loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). This procedure is used to remove the abnormal cells from your cervix. This page covers some frequently asked questions about LEEP as well as the basics about this procedure.
WHAT CAUSES PROBLEMS WITH MY CERVIX?
The cervix is a part of the reproductive system between the vagina and the uterus. It is covered by a thin layer of tissue with cells that grow all the time. During growth, the bottom layer of cells slowly moves to the surface as the others are shed, in a similar fashion to skin. When this normal growth process is changed, the cells become abnormal, which is a condition called dysplasia. Sometimes, mild forms of dysplasia will go away by themselves. However, more severe or persisting forms of dysplasia may lead to cancer of the cervix. Factors such as smoking and exposure to STDs such as HPV also increase the chances of cervical cancer.
HOW CAN DYSPLASIA BE TREATED?
There are several ways to treat dysplasia, such as cryosurgery, electrocautery, laser, or cone biopsy, and LEEP. It will depend on your condition and your doctor’s advice as to how to treat dysplasia.
WHAT IS LEEP?
Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) is a procedure that can be used to remove dysplasia. The main tool in the LEEP procedure is a thin, wire loop on a long piece of metal. An electric current is passed through the loop, which allows it to cut through a thin layer of surface cells to remove the abnormal cells.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT DURING THE PROCEDURE?
LEEP should be done when you are not on your period, which could cloud the view of the cervix. It is usually done in the doctor’s office or a clinic and does not take more than a few minutes. You will be given pain relief before the procedure, and will be asked to lie on your back with your legs in the stirrups. Your doctor will then insert an instrument called a speculum inside of you that will spread the vaginal walls. A solution is applied to show abnormal cells. A colposcopy will be used to magnify the cervix. Your cervix will be injected with a local anesthetic so that you will still be awake but will remain comfortable. However, you may feel a dull ache or cramp. The loop is then inserted through your vagina and removes the abnormal cells, which will be analyzed in a lab. A special paste will be applied to the area to stop the bleeding called nonsel's solution. You will experience a discharge after the procedure which may last a couple of weeks as your cervix heals.
WHAT IS THE RECOVERY LIKE?
It is also normal to have mild vaginal bleeding and mild cramping. For several weeks afterward, you should not douche, have sex, or use tampons. Your doctor may prescribe pain relief for symptoms, but most likely ibuprofen will be sufficient.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF HAVING LEEP?
Problems rarely occur with LEEP, but obviously there can always be complications. You may have bleeding during the procedure, which is usually stopped by your doctor. Also, there is a risk of infection after the procedure, but that is very rare. Call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Fever (more than 100.4 degrees F)
- Heavy bleeding, especially with clots
HOW CAN I STAY HEALTHY AFTER LEEP?
See your doctor for all follow ups. Make sure to get regular pap tests and pelvic exams. Stop smoking, as it greatly increases your risk for developing cancer. Limit your number of sexual partners and use condoms to risk contact from STDs.
LEEP is a safe, effective way to treat dysplasia. It can be performed in your doctor’s office in several minutes, and recovery time is usually very quick. Ask your doctor if a LEEP is right for you.