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A loop electrical excision procedure (LEEP) is a minor operation that removes abnormal cells from the base of a woman’s cervix; it usually is performed after a pap test shows changes in normal cells. A thin wire that is electrified is used to excise a layer of tissue containing the cells that appear abnormal. Loop electrical excision procedure is usually effective in preventing cancer by excising precancerous tissue. If a biopsy of the removed cells show cancer has spread into the cervical canal, it can lead to early treatment.
LEEP is one method to treat cervical dysplasia, a disorganized growth of cells at the end of the cervix. Dysplasia is not cancer, but it can lead to cancer and typically is diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe. Severe cases can develop into cancer and invade the cervix and other female reproductive organs. Development of cancer is rare after unnatural cells have been removed.
The loop electrical excision procedure is typically done in a doctor’s office or clinic. A physician numbs the cervix with an anesthetic and swabs the surface with an iodine or vinegar solution to make the irregular cells more visible. The doctor inserts a speculum into the vagina to widen the opening and allow access to the end of the cervix. The electrified wire loop cuts away atypical tissue and a slight amount of surrounding normal tissue. A medication is commonly used to cauterize the cervix and stop bleeding.
After the loop electrical excision procedure is done, a woman might suffer cramps but can usually return to normal activities within a few days. She may also experience minor bleeding or discharge that might last between one and three weeks. If cramping and bleeding are severe, the patient is usually advised to contact her doctor.
Most women are told to obtain more frequent pap tests after a loop electrical excision procedure to ensure all the abnormal cells were removed. Doctors commonly recommend a test every four months until results come back normal several times in a row. After several pap examinations return normal, the patient usually is told to have a pap test once each year.
Serious side effects are considered rare after a LEEP. In some women of childbearing age, it might cause premature birth or a baby with low birth weight. Occasionally, the cervix narrows after the surgery and might cause infertility or difficulty becoming pregnant. Infections can also occur after any surgical procedure.