LEEP stands for loop electrosurgical excision procedure. Doctors perform them to detect or treat cervical cancer.
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During a LEEP, an electrical current passes through a loop of wire. A doctor uses the wire to cut abnormal cells from the cervix. They send a sample of these cells to a laboratory to detect signs of cancer or other conditions.

This article will describe what to expect during a LEEP, as well as the side effects and recovery.

Uses

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A doctor may suggest a LEEP if a person is experiencing cervix- or vagina-related issues.

A LEEP can help diagnose or treat cervical cancer. A doctor may suggest a LEEP if a person is having symptoms that indicate a problem with the cervix or vagina.

They may also suggest a LEEP if they find abnormalities during a pelvic examination or a Pap smear.

The purpose of a LEEP is to extract abnormal cells for further testing. The results will inform a doctor about whether a person has an underlying illness and what steps they should take next.

A LEEP can help distinguish between precancerous cells and other abnormal cell types, such as polyps.

Precancerous cells are abnormal cells that may eventually develop into cancer. Cervical polyps are small growths of tissue that can form in the cervix. Polyps are usually benign, which means they are not cancerous.

A LEEP can also detect conditions that increase the risk of cervical cancer, such as human papillomavirus, which is commonly known as HPV.

What to expect

A person will undergo a LEEP in a sterile environment, such as a doctor’s practice or hospital. If a person has recently had a fever or any unusual vaginal bleeding, it is vital to inform the doctor before the procedure.

The doctor will usually perform a LEEP when a person is not menstruating, as this will provide a better view of the cervix.

At the start of the procedure, the doctor will administer a local anesthetic to minimize any discomfort.

The person will then lie on their back and place their legs on stirrups. The doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina. A speculum is a small metal device that opens the vagina, allowing the doctor to examine the vagina and cervix.

Some procedures involve the use of a colposcope, which magnifies tissues inside the vagina and cervix to help a doctor see better.

Occasionally, a doctor may also apply a vinegar solution to the cervix. This can make abnormal tissues more visible. It may cause a tingling sensation in the area, but it should not be painful.

Following this preparation, the doctor will insert the loop device through the vagina to reach the cervix. They will extract abnormal cells by gently scraping the surface of the cervix. One or two passes of the loop should be sufficient to extract a sample.

It is possible for the procedure to cause feelings of faintness. If this happens, it is crucial to inform the doctor and remain calm and still. Sudden movements may cause further complications.

Once the procedure is complete, a person should rest for 10–15 minutes. The doctor will send the samples to a laboratory for testing.

Recovery and aftercare

It can take several weeks to fully recover from a LEEP. During this time, a person may experience some bleeding, discolored discharge, and mild abdominal cramping.

Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce abdominal discomfort. If the cramping becomes severe, contact a doctor immediately.

There may be some bleeding during a LEEP, but the doctor will cauterize the area to seal any broken blood vessels and reduce the chance of substantial bleeding. They may also apply a paste to help prevent bleeding.

Some bleeding can, however, occur for up to 2 weeks after the procedure. If a person experiences heavy bleeding, they should contact a doctor immediately.

The doctor will usually advise against putting anything into the vagina, including tampons, for the first few weeks after surgery. Also, avoid strenuous activity during recovery.

Several follow-up visits will be necessary so that the doctor can monitor healing.

Side effects and risks

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Some people may experience mild abdominal cramps following a LEEP.

A LEEP is a very safe procedure. Some people may experience mild abdominal cramps and bleeding during recovery.

In rare cases, other risks include:

  • infection
  • scarring of the cervix
  • difficulties getting pregnant
  • a preterm birth
  • the birth of an underweight baby

Some factors can complicate a LEEP, including:

It is essential to inform the doctor about any of these factors before undergoing the procedure.

Takeaway

A LEEP is useful for screening and treating cervical cancer. The procedure is relatively quick and painless.

Recovery can take several weeks, and a person may experience some discomfort. Serious complications are rare.

Getting the results from a LEEP can help a person and their doctor make an informed decision about the next steps.

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