Treating abnormal cells in the cervix 

If cervical screening shows that you have abnormal cells in your cervix, treatment to remove the affected cells may be recommended.

In some cases, you may be offered treatment at the same time as your colposcopy. A colposcopy is an examination that uses a special microscope called a colposcope to examine your cervix and determine the extent of cell abnormality. More extensive types of treatment may require a separate appointment.

The type of treatment you will be offered will depend on how many abnormal cells you have in your cervix and how severe the cell changes are.

Main treatments

For many of the commonly used treatments, you will be given a local anaesthetic beforehand. This means the area being treated will be numbed but you will remain awake throughout the procedure.

The possible treatments are described below. It's important that you discuss them with your GP before deciding which to have.

Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ)

Also known as LEEP or diathermy, LLETZ is a procedure that uses a fine wire and an electrical current to cut away the affected area of tissue and seal the wound at the same time.

The advantage of this treatment is that the cells are removed rather than destroyed, so the tissue can be sent for further tests to confirm the extent of the cell changes and make sure the area of your cervix that contains the cells has been removed.

Cone biopsy

A cone biopsy is a small operation that in most cases requires an overnight stay in hospital.

A cone-shaped piece of tissue is cut away from your cervix to remove all of the abnormal cells. You may need a general anaesthetic (where you are asleep during the procedure).

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy involves using a cold probe to freeze and destroy the abnormal cells in the cervix.

Laser treatments

Sometimes referred to as laser ablation, the procedure uses lasers to identify and destroy abnormal cells in the cervix.

If necessary, a laser can also be used to remove a small piece of the cervix itself.

Cold coagulation

During cold coagulation, a hot probe is applied to the cervix to burn away and remove the abnormal cells.

See colposcopy treatment for more information about these treatments.

Risks of treatment

Although removing or destroying the abnormal cells in your cervix can help reduce your risk of cervical cancer, there are a number of downsides to treatment you may want to discuss with your doctor.

For example, there is a chance that the abnormalities detected in your cells will return to normal without any treatment. However, it is not possible to know if this will happen and treatment is usually only recommended when repeated tests continue to show abnormalities, or if the abnormalities are more severe (high-grade).

There is also some evidence to suggest that some types of treatment may increase your risk of giving birth prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy), or having a child with a low birth weight, in the future. However, the treatments associated with this risk are rarely used nowadays and the alternatives mentioned above are considered much safer.


HPV testing after treatment

Six months after receiving treatment for abnormal cells in your cervix, a cervical screening test should be carried out to check for any cell changes.

If the test shows no changes, or only borderline or low-grade changes, the sample will also be tested for human papilloma virus (HPV).

If HPV is not found, you will not need to be screened for another three years.

If HPV is found, or more significant cell changes are detected, you should be referred for another colposcopy.

Page last reviewed: 30/09/2013

Next review due: 30/09/2015