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The LEEP Procedure for HPV

You might have been told by your doctor that you need to have a LEEP procedure for HPV but are unsure exactly what this is. LEEP is a medical procedure used to remove some cervical tissue for microscopic examination, either to diagnose or to treat abnormal cervical cells which may lead to cervical cancer.

LEEP stands for Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure; the Loop is the instrument used, being a thin loop of wire called a loop electrode; Electrosurgical means that the surgical procedure uses a loop electrode which has a high density electric current passed through it; Excision means to take a piece of tissue, in this case, of the cervix. The tissue removed during the procedure is sent to a pathology laboratory for analysis.

A LEEP procedure for HPV may be required if a Pap or HPV test have returned a positive result for abnormal cells being present in the cervix. The LEEP allows a larger sample of the cervix to be examined to determine the cause and extent of the abnormality of the cervical cells; this is called a biopsy.

The surgical procedure is also used to remove abnormal tissue that has been identified on the cervix, which could be precancerous or cancerous. Abnormal cells that have a high risk of developing into cancer are described by the medical term cervical dysplasia. Some strains of HPV cause this abnormality of cervical cells that are sometimes a precursor to cancer. Genital warts are a symptom of different strains of HPV; these can also be removed with a LEEP procedure if they are proving to be uncomfortable or painful.

The procedure is usually performed in the doctor's office and will take between 30 and 45 minutes. A local anesthetic is given to the patient prior to the procedure and pain medication may be prescribed in case of any discomfort after the surgery. You will be advised to rest after the procedure but should be able to return to normal activities within a day or two. Some discomfort is to be expected and there may be some vaginal discharge.

You should avoid sexual intercourse, using tampons and doing any heavy lifting for four weeks after having a LEEP. Your doctor will advise you to have a Pap test every 4 months for about 2 years to make sure no further abnormalities appear. If there is going to be a recurrence, it is usually within that 2 year period, but most women don't have any recurrence at all.

As with any surgical procedure, there are potential risks but the LEEP procedure for HPV has proven to be fairly risk-free. The main risk is too much tissue being taken from the cervix but this is rare when the procedure is performed by an experienced surgeon.

With the risks associated with surgery in mind, LEEP may not be warranted for less serious cell abnormalities. Most doctors prefer to adopt a wait and see approach with less serious abnormalities and follow up with a second Pap smear in 6 months' time. Some abnormalities disappear on their own with no intervention and so rushing into LEEP surgery isn't always warranted.

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