Breathe. Trust me, this is not the end of the world. So, your doctor has recommended that you get a LEEP? Why? Chances are if your doctor has recommended you have had a pap test come back abnormal and most likely you have a colposcopy with a biopsy that also came back abnormal. The big thing to remember is that just because you are hang a LEEP does not mean that you have cervical cancer.
What is a LEEP Exactly?
LEEP is short for loop electrosurgical excision procedure. This means that your doctor will use a thin wire with an electric current running through it to remove abnormal groups of cells. So, how can your doctor tell which cells are abnormal and which ones are fine? Just like when you had your colposcopy done your doctor will use acetic acid, commonly known as vinegar, to coat the cervix. This solution will make the abnormal cells stand out and become visible for your doctor.
Basically, the LEEP is designed to remove the abnormal cells that can be seen on the cervix. This procedure is minimally invasive. It can be done in your doctor's office or as an outpatient procedure. The procedure itself does not take much time, typically around 15 minutes or so. Your doctor will send out the tissue that has been removed from your cervix and send it out for further testing. This will give your doctor a better idea if they removed all of the abnormalities and if there is any cancer.
Before the LEEP
Before your doctor recommends a LEEP to be preformed you will have several other diagnostic tests completed to make sure that the LEEP is an appropriate treatment option. Most women have a pap test completed every 1-3 years. If the pap comes back with abnormalities your doctor might recommend another pap to be performed. Of course this will depend on what level of abnormality the pap test comes back with.
After an abnormal pap test or two your doctor will most likely recommend a colposcopy. This procedure is quick and relatively pain free. The doctor will take a close look at the cervix and take a biopsy if need be. If a sample is taken it will be sent off to see if it is cancerous or not. If the biopsy comes back with precancerous cells or shows a lower stage of cancer your doctor might suggest the LEEP as a treatment option.
After the Procedure
Your body needs time to heal after the LEEP. As the LEEP is a little more invasive than the colposcopy it will take a little longer for your body to completely heal. Since you will most likely experience spotting you will want to wear a pad for up to three weeks after the procedure. Do not use a tampon during this time. You also want to avoid douching during this time. It is also recommend that you do not participate in vaginal sexual intercourse for the first three weeks after the procedure. Tampons, douching, and sexual intercourse could cause an infection or not allow the cervix to completely heal.
The Day of Your LEEP
If you elect to have the procedure completed in your doctor's office you might want to consider talking to your doctor about taking pain mediation before the procedure. I've been told the most uncomfortable part of the procedure is the numbing solution used to keep you from feeling any pain during the procedure. It was described to me as a pinching, burning sensation. As that didn't sound too pleasant for me and I wanted to be more relaxed I opted for option number two.
I choose to have the LEEP completed as an outpatient surgery. Before the procedure you will need to have a negative pregnancy test completed. After the test is completed you will begin the process of getting ready for the LEEP.
You will need to remove all clothing ad jewelry. You will be given a hospital gown to wear. Your nurse will then take your vitals and start your IV. They may have use the vein in your hand since it is possible for you to stop the IV flow in your arm if you move during the surgery. You will be given anesthesia and taken to the operating room. Once you are fully asleep and ready your doctor will perform the LEEP. Once the surgery is completed you will be taken to a recovery room and woken up.
One thing to keep in mind if you are having the outpatient surgery is that you will need to fast before the surgery.
What to Look Out for After the Procedure
Your LEEP is now over and you can go home. It is not uncommon to have a little bleeding or spotting for a week or two after the surgery. It is possible that you may experience a little soreness or cramping for a couple of days. You should also not be alarmed if you have a little unusual discharge for up to a week. This is the cervix healing itself and shedding scabs and old tissue, and is perfectly normal.
Call your doctor or go to the ER immediately if you have any of the follow:
- Pelvic pain that get worse or does not respond to pain medications
- Bleeding heavier than a normal menstrual cycle
- Foul smelling discharge
- Fever or chills
All of the above symptoms can be warning signs of an infection. If you have any questions call your doctor's office. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
There is a slight risk of complications from the LEEP. There is a chance of various infections after the procedure, especially if you do not follow all of your doctor's after care instructions. If you do decided to have the procedure completed as an outpatient surgery there is a change that you could have a reaction to the anesthesia. There have been some cases of women being unable to carry a child to full term after having a LEEP completed. However, this is more often seen in women who have had more than one LEEP completed. There is also a small risk for cervical stenosis, the narrowing of the cervix. In extreme cases this can cause infertility.
Make sure that you go over all of the risks and benefits of the procedure with your doctor before you decide if it is right for you.
In the End
Remember this is a proactive procedure that is meant to remove abnormal cells before they become cancerous. This is only one of many treatment options. Just because your doctor recommends it does not mean that you have to go through with it. But, your doctor has your best interest in mind. In my opinion it is better to be proactive than to risk developing cancer, which would be much harder to treat.
I wish you the best of luck! Remember, if you have any questions talk with your health care professional. They will most likely have the answers you want, or will be able to get them for you.