Rates of cervical cancer in the U.S. have dipped to all-time lows, not only because of early detection through regular Pap tests, but also because of quick, effective treatments for pre-cancerous cervical tissues, including the loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP).
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LEEP, a simple and common surgical procedure, uses a thin, low-voltage electrified wire loop. This tiny tool is inserted into the vagina to remove pre-cancerous tissue from the cervix.
Thanks to advancements in prevention and early treatment, there are only about 12,000 new diagnoses of cervical cancer in this country each year. This is a far cry from the 1940s, which predated the use of the Pap smear. At that time, cancer of the cervix was still a major cause of death among women of childbearing age.
Gynecologic oncologist Robert DeBernardo, MD, says, “Because of the Pap test and procedures like LEEP, cervical cancer is now an orphan disease.”
Here are four things that Dr. DeBernardo says women should know about LEEP:
1. It’s fast
From beginning to end, the procedure takes 10 minutes, but the removal of the tissue “literally takes five seconds,” Dr. DeBernardo says. In most cases, it can be done in your doctor’s office, but Dr. DeBernardo says patients may choose to be under conscious sedation (light anesthesia) in an operating room if they are apprehensive.
2. It’s like a long Pap smear
It starts like a normal pelvic exam, using a speculum to open the vagina and expose the cervix. A local anesthetic is used to numb the cervix and prevent bleeding. Your doctor will use the electrified looped wire to slice off a layer of the pre-cancerous tissue, which will be sent to a lab for testing.
3. It’s low-risk
The risks of complications from a LEEP are very low, Dr. DeBernardo says. Long-term, however, women can experience difficulty getting pregnant or have a higher risk of pre-term labor and early delivery. “You should inform your OB/GYN if you’ve had a LEEP once you are pregnant or if you are having difficulty getting pregnant,” he says.
4. It’s a quick recovery
Most women are back to normal activities within a couple of days after a LEEP. “It’s normal to experience some spotting, cramping or disruption to your typical menstrual cycle, and as women recover, it’s important that they put nothing in the vagina for four weeks,” Dr. DeBernardo says.
Cervical Cancer Treatment Guide