Whenever abnormal cells are found during a Pap test, you may be anxious—after all, a Pap smear is one of the most effective methods of detecting cervical cancer at its earliest, and most treatable stage.
If you have abnormal cells, there are a number of responses. The next step depends upon your age, the results of your previous Pap smears, and the degree of change seen on your current Pap. If a moderate to high degree of change is seen when reviewing your cervical cells, then we may conduct a LEEP procedure, which removes the cells and enables us to examine them more closely to detect any potential signs of cancer.
You may have questions about how effective a LEEP procedure is and whether or not abnormal cells will return after the procedure. We’ll address these questions, and we encourage you to contact us if you need any answers not found here.
What Is a LEEP Procedure?
LEEP stands for Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure, and it’s not only used to remove possible precancerous cells from your cervix, but it’s also used to diagnose or treat:
- Polyps, which are benign growths
- Genital warts
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure. DES is a type of synthetic estrogen. Those whose mothers took DES during pregnancy are at a higher risk of reproductive system cancer. The use of DES was discontinued in the 1970s.
We’ll discuss whether or not a LEEP procedure is the best choice to aid your treatment for the appearance of abnormal cervical cells, polyps or genital warts.
During a LEEP, a tiny, wire loop with an electrical current that acts like a small, accurate scalpel is used to remove any abnormal cells and tissue. Its precision enables us to reach the targeted area while leaving healthy tissue alone. It’s typically performed under local anesthesia in the form of numbing medicine injected into your cervix, so you’ll have minimum discomfort.
How Effective Is the LEEP Procedure?
According to a study by the Journal of Minimally Invasive Therapy and Allied Technologies, the LEEP procedure is exceptionally effective, maintaining a 93 to 100 percent success rate. Success rates varied slightly, depending upon the size of the area that needed to be removed.
Can You Have Abnormal Cells After a LEEP Procedure?
A LEEP procedure is exceptionally effective at removing any abnormal or precancerous cells from your cervix. However, depending upon your individual situation, it is possible that abnormal cells will return again, which is why we want to have follow-up appointments and regular cervical cancer screenings with you. How often will depend upon many factors, including your individual case and your family history.
In general, women who have had LEEP procedures need to have a follow-up Pap in 1 year. There are situations when a 6 month follow-up and a 1 year follow-up Pap smear are required.
What Should I Do After a LEEP Procedure?
You will be able to go home after the LEEP procedure, although you may want to rest for a few minutes before leaving our office. Don’t worry if you have spotting or dark discharge for a few days—this is normal, and you may want to wear pads until the discharge stops.
Don’t douche, use tampons or have sex for 2 – 4 weeks after the procedure. It’s also a good idea to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous tasks the day of the procedure, and you may want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever for cramping that sometimes occurs after a LEEP.
Let us know as soon as possible if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Bleeding that contains clots
- Foul-smelling drainage from your vagina
We’ll provide a more detailed set of instructions after your LEEP procedure.
What Is My Risk for Developing Cervical Cancer?
Thankfully, the Pap smear test has greatly reduced the number of deaths from cervical cancer because it detects it at the earliest stages. However, according to the American Cancer Society, you may be at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer if:
- You’ve been infected with HPV
- You’ve had many sexual partners, or you have a sexual partner who is in a high-risk category
- You smoke
- You have a compromised immune system
- You’ve had three or more full-term pregnancies
- You had your first full-term pregnancy before you were 20
- You have a diet low in fruits and vegetables
- You have a family history of cervical cancer
- Your mother took Diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy
We’re By Your Side in the Fight Against Cervical Cancer
Let’s be clear—having abnormal cervical cells does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer. However, it does mean that those cells need to be closely examined. Depending upon the degree of change and your pap smear history, a LEEP may be the best approach to your care.
We know this can cause a lot of anxiety and worry, and that’s why we want you to know that we will be by your side through every step, encouraging you and providing the vital information you need in order to make educated decisions about your health care.
If you’re past due for your Pap smear, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with us today and see why generations of Triangle area women have trusted us for more than 40 years.