FAQ: Treatment for abnormal cervical cells

In our series of 'Myths and Truths' videos for Cervical Screening Awareness Week 2019, we are answering all of your frequently asked questions around cervical screening and what you can expect if you have an abnormal result. So get clued up and get booked in!

I have been told I have abnormal cervical cells, does that mean I have cancer?

No, cervical screening tests (previously known as smear tests) are used to detect abnormal changes to the cervix, which can potentially lead to cervical cancer in the future. If you have been told you have abnormal cervical cells, this means there are some changes to the cells in your cervix, which are most likely caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is transmitted through skin to skin sexual contact and causes over 99% of cervical abnormalities.  These changes are not cancer, but have the potential to lead to cancer. Your changes will be categorised into Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN) 1 (low grade), CIN2 (medium grade) or CIN3 (high grade).

Your doctor will recommend what happens next based on the grading of your cervical abnormalities.

What is the treatment for abnormal cervical cells and how does it work?

If you have CIN1 abnormalities it is likely you will be put under ‘watch and wait’. This means that you won’t be given any treatment at this stage, but will be monitored regularly to see if the changes develop.

If you have CIN2 abnormalities, your doctor may make the decision to keep you under watch and watch or seek a more active treatment approach (see below).

If you have CIN3 abnormalities, your treatment is likely to be Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LETZ) in which a small device is used to remove the tiny area of the cervix where abnormal cells arise. It is usually done under local anaesthetic.

Will the treatment hurt?

LETZ treatment, can and often does cause some pain. Because we know this, the procedure will be done under local anaesthetic. The cervix heals well and in the majority of cases there will be no distortion or scarring.

Is it normal to bleed after treatment?

It is normal to experience bleeding after LETZ treatment, not all women will but it is a common side effect. This bleeding should stop within three to six weeks as the cervix heals, but everyone is different.

Will I be able to have sex after the treatment?

There are no set guidelines on this, but it is advised that you wait three to six weeks after any bleeding or discharge has stopped before penetrative sex, in order to avoid discomfort and infection.

Is there a risk I might not be able to conceive or carry a baby?

It is unlikely that the LETZ treatment will cause fertility issues. If this is something you are worried about, talk to your doctor about your concerns before the procedure.

Is there a risk I could still get cervical cancer after the treatment?

95% of women require only one treatment and the LETZ procedure is safe and effective. The risk of getting cervical cancer after your treatment is very low, which is why we would always recommend having LETZ if advised by your doctor following an abnormal screening result.

I have abnormal cervical cells and I am in a long term relationship, does that mean my partner cheated on me?

No, HPV is extremely common with at least 80% of people having it at some point in their lifetime. Unlike other STI’s, it is transmitted by skin to skin contact and can be anywhere, including your fingers and mouth. You can have HPV from just one sexual experience, and do not need to have had penetrative sex. This is why it is important that everyone offered a cervical screening test attends their appointment, including those who are trans and women who only sleep with women.

My friend had abnormal cells and wasn’t treated, why is it different for me?

It is important to remember that everyone is different. As well as there being three grades of abnormal cervical changes, there may be other factors your doctor has considered when thinking about your risk of cancer and what treatment you should have. Your medical team may have spotted something else in your medical history that makes your risk different to your friends, so please don’t worry if you have been offered a different treatment to your friend.

Who can I talk to if I am worried about the procedure and the after effects?

If you have any questions about your procedure or any of the side affects you can speak to your medical team about them. Your nurse or doctor will be able to help you. Alternatively, you can find information on the Jo’s Trust website or contact our free, confidential information service, Ask Eve and speak to our gynae cancer nurse specialist, Tracie Miles, or Cancer Information Officer, Karen Hobbs about your concerns.