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What Is a LEEP Procedure?

During a LEEP procedure a speculum is inserted into the vagina, much like during a standard pelvic exam.
A LEEP procedure may be used after an abnormal pap smear and unusual findings from the colposcopy.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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A LEEP procedure is a medical procedure used to remove abnormal tissue from the cervix for the purpose of biopsy to determine whether or not it is cancerous. Since the procedure often removes all of the tissue along with a margin of healthy flesh, it is also a form of treatment for suspected cases of cancer. This procedure is generally recommended if a woman has an abnormal pap smear and further investigation with a colposcopy and biopsy indicates that the she has moderate or severe dysplasia, abnormal tissue that may be pre-cancerous.

LEEP stands for Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure, so as you might imagine, electricity is involved. In a LEEP procedure, a small amount of current is passed through a wire loop, causing the tissue near the loop to separate and cauterize, allowing a doctor to remove a sample of questionable tissue for further examination.

This procedure starts out much like a normal pelvic exam. The woman is asked to undress from the waist down and get into position on a gynecological table so that the doctor can insert a speculum to make it easier to see the cervix. Then, the area is swabbed with a mildly acidic solution, followed by an iodine rinse, to make the abnormal tissue easier to see. An electrosurgical dispersive pad will be placed on the thigh so that the current safely disperses, and the doctor will attach a disposable loop to the electricity-generating device.

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Using a colposcope, the doctor magnifies the cervix before providing a local anesthetic so that the LEEP procedure will not be painful. Next, the loop is carefully inserted, positioned in the area of interest, and turned on. The resulting tissue is packaged for biopsy, and then the doctor checks for bleeding, using an electrocautery tool to stop any bleeding, if necessary. Typically, some smoke is produced, because the process involves burning tissue. When biopsy results from the LEEP procedure come back, the doctor will discuss the results and any action which needs to be taken.

Some soreness and breakthrough bleeding are common after a LEEP procedure. Most doctors recommend abstention from sexual activity, the use of tampons, and the use of vaginally-applied medications, to reduce the risk of infection. Some also recommend taking showers, rather than baths, for a week or so after the procedure. Complications from a properly performed LEEP procedure are rare, but a doctor will discuss the potential for more serious complications and their symptoms so that you can seek medical attention for these complications if they arise.

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