What It's Like To Have LLETZ Surgery

Evidence suggests that Australia's rates of cervical cancer are "among the lowest [...] in the developed world". One of the reasons for this is the country's excellent cervical cancer screening program, and if you're a woman between the ages of 25 and 65 it's essential that you attend your smear tests every 2-4 years. It's this very program that keeps those numbers down: the overwhelming majority of women who would develop cervical cancer never do, because it's caught before it's even begun.

"Abnormal" results for those tests are actually quite common, and are almost all caused by HPV - a viral infection so common it's almost ubiquitous, that is generally entirely symptom-free but can increase your chances of developing cervical cancer later in life. A huge number of people have HPV, and it's nothing to feel bad about--but if you're one of them, your doctors will want to take a closer look at your cervical cancer risk. You may be sent for something called a colposcopy, which is simply a way of looking more closely at your cervix. If your health professionals feel that you have a very high rate of abnormal cells on your cervix that may one day be cancerous, you'll be referred for something called LLETZ--a Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone.

What does LLETZ surgery consist of?

There are various names for LLETZ surgery: it can also be called a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), a diathermy loop biopsy, or referred to simply as having "a loop". Your gynaecological surgeon will take a small wire loop with an electrical current running through it that heats it up, and use that to cut away the abnormal tissue from your cervix while simultaneously cauterising the surgical site and limiting bleeding.

By default, this procedure will be carried out under a local anaesthetic. Many women prefer to have it under a general, however, and you must feel free to discuss this with your doctors if you think you might like to make that choice. If you have an IUD--either a hormonal coil or a copper one--it will need to be removed so that the surgery can take place. The surgeon may be able to give you a new one during the same procedure, however, so discuss this with them in advance. 

How will I feel after the surgery is over?

For a few hours after the surgery, you'll probably experience some cramping (it will feel a lot like period pain) and you're likely to have some ordinary side effects from the anaesthetic. Ask your doctor what this will be like before you go in for surgery.

The methods used in LLETZ surgery cause a scab to form across your cervix, which will in time heal. As it does, however, you will see some bleeding and discharge. If you find that you have to change your pad more than once every two hours or you feel unwell for more than a few hours after the procedure, contact a medical professional to check you're not experiencing a rare complication.

For six weeks following surgery, you should avoid anything that penetrates your vagina--including tampons and penetrative sex.