A LEEP is highly effective at removing precancerous cells and preventing cervical cancer. Often, a person will not go on to develop cervical cancer following the procedure.

A doctor may use a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) to identify and remove abnormal precancerous cells in the cervix. A LEEP can be an effective way to prevent cervical cancer.

This article looks at what a LEEP is, how effective the procedure is, and what to do after a LEEP. It also looks at the risk factors for developing cervical cancer and answers some frequently asked questions about LEEP.

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A LEEP is a procedure in which a doctor removes abnormal cells from the cervix for evaluation or as part of a treatment.

A LEEP involves the insertion of a thin loop of wire heated by electricity. During a LEEP, a doctor uses the wire to remove abnormal cells from the cervix.

A doctor may perform a LEEP if a person’s Pap smear results reveal abnormal cells. Removing the tissue during a LEEP can allow doctors to evaluate the cells and diagnose precancerous changes or cervical cancer.

A doctor may also remove areas of tissue in the cervix as part of the treatment for carcinoma in situ, which are abnormal cells that may spread and progress into cancer or precancerous conditions such as human papillomavirus (HPV).

A doctor may perform a LEEP in their office or in a clinic or the hospital. For the procedure, a person will lie on their back with their legs in stirrups, in the same position as they would for a Pap smear or pelvic examination. The doctor may administer local anesthetic to numb the cervix.

The doctor will insert a speculum, an instrument that opens the vagina. They will then insert the wire loop into the cervix and remove areas of abnormal tissue by gently scraping with the heated wire.

After the doctor has removed the cells, they may cauterize the area and apply a special paste to stop bleeding.

Doctors do not typically use a LEEP to treat or cure cervical cancer, but the procedure is highly effective as a way to prevent cervical cancer. A LEEP involves removing cell growths in the cervix that may progress to cancer.

Research has found that a LEEP successfully cures 73-99% of cervical dysplasia, a precancerous growth of cells in the cervix. HPV is a common cause of the condition.

Following a LEEP, most people do not experience a recurrence of cervical dysplasia. One study found that following a LEEP, just 4% of people saw a recurrence of precancerous cells within 5 years of their diagnosis.

Another study found that 3.2% of people experienced a recurrence of cervical dysplasia that required further treatment 1 year after they underwent LEEP.

LEEP is an effective preventive treatment for cervical cancer. However, once cells in the cervix progress to cancer, treatment commonly involves:

Certain factors may increase the risk of recurrence of precancerous cell growth after a LEEP. These include:

After a LEEP, a person may have to take certain steps and precautions while they recover.

  • Avoid vaginal intercourse or inserting anything into the vagina, such as tampons or douches, for at least 4 weeks after the procedure.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise or activity for 1 week after the procedure.
  • Avoid bathing and swimming until a doctor advises it is safe, although a person can shower as usual.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication if necessary, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Use period pads, as a person may experience bleeding similar to menstrual bleeding.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience side effects such as:

  • pain that does not respond to OTC treatment
  • heavy vaginal bleeding
  • signs of infection, such as bad-smelling, yellowish vaginal discharge, fever, and increasing pain

Several factors may increase a person’s risk of developing cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, these include:

  • HPV: HPV is a common infection, and some types of the virus have significant links to various cancers, including cervical cancer. There is no cure for HPV, but doctors can treat the abnormal cell growths that the virus causes. HPV vaccines are available that can help prevent certain types of the virus.
  • Family history: A person with a close family member, such as a mother or sister, who had cervical cancer may be at higher risk of the disease
  • Chlamydia: Bacteria from the sexually transmitted infection (STI), chlamydia, may help HPV to flourish, which may increase a person’s risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • A weakened immune system:People with a weakened immune system due to conditions such as HIV or those being treated with medication to suppress their immune systems may be at higher risk of HPV infection.
  • Lack of access to healthcare:People with low incomes or other barriers may not be able to access healthcare services such as Pap smear tests regularly. This means they may not receive treatment or screening for precancerous cell development, such as LEEP, and may be at higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • Pregnancy status: People who become pregnant before the age of 20 years and people who have had three or more full-term pregnancies are at higher risk of cervical cancer than the larger population.
  • Smoking: Someone who smokes may be twice as likely to develop cervical cancer. Researchers have found that the body absorbs harmful substances from tobacco products via the lungs and transports them to other areas of the body through the blood. These harmful substances can cause damage to the DNA of cells in the cervix, which can lead to cervical cancer.
  • Long-term use of birth control pills: Researchers have found that taking birth control pills for many years can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES): Doctors prescribed DES, a hormonal drug for preventing miscarriage, between 1938 and 1971. People whose mothers took DES may be at slightly increased risk of cervical cancer.

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about LEEP and cervical cancer.

Is it possible to still have abnormal cells after a LEEP?

It is possible that abnormal precancerous cells will be present after a LEEP, although the risk is low. A doctor can repeat the procedure to remove the remaining cells.

Does LEEP prevent cervical cancer?

A LEEP is a highly effective preventive method for cervical cancer. The procedure can remove abnormal cells before they progress to cancer.

How likely is HPV to return after LEEP?

A LEEP procedure cannot cure HPV, although it can effectively eradicate the precancerous cell growth that the virus can cause. Various factors can influence the likelihood of HPV recurrence, such as a person’s age, overall health, and sexual history.

A LEEP is an effective way to diagnose and treat precancerous cell growth in the cervix, called cervical dysplasia. The procedure can remove the abnormal cells before they progress to cervical cancer.

A doctor may perform a LEEP if a person has received abnormal test results from a Pap smear or pelvic examination.

A LEEP is not typically an effective treatment for cervical cancer, which may require more aggressive treatment, such as chemotherapy and surgery.