Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

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How women with abnormal Pap test results or pre-cancers are treated

Treating women with abnormal Pap test results and pre-cancers can prevent cervical cancer from developing

If an abnormal area is seen during the colposcopy, your doctor will be able to remove it with a loop electrosurgical procedure (LEEP or LLETZ procedure, which were discussed in the previous section). Other options include a cone biopsy and destroying the abnormal cells with cryosurgery or laser surgery.

During cryosurgery, a metal probe cooled with liquid nitrogen is placed directly on the cervix. This kills the abnormal cells by freezing them. This can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. After cryosurgery, you may have a lot of watery brown discharge for a few weeks.

In laser surgery, a focused laser beam, directed through the vagina, is used to vaporize (burn off) abnormal cells or to remove a small piece of tissue for study. This can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic and is done under local anesthesia (numbing medicine).

For a cone biopsy, a cone-shaped piece of tissue is removed from the cervix. This is done using a surgical or laser knife (cold knife cone biopsy) or using a thin wire heated by electricity (the loop electrosurgical, LEEP or LEETZ procedure). After the procedure, the tissue removed (the cone) is examined under the microscope. If the margins (outer edges) of the cone contain abnormal (cancer or pre-cancer) cells (called positive margins), some cancer (or pre-cancer) may have been left behind, so further treatment is needed.

These treatments are almost always effective in destroying pre-cancers and preventing them from developing into true cancers. You will need follow-up exams to make sure that the abnormality does not come back. If it does, the treatments can be repeated. Rarely, surgery to remove the cervix (often with the body of the uterus) is used to treat pre-cancers. These, called trachelectomy and hysterectomy, are more often used to invasive cancers, and are discussed in our document Cervical Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 09/17/2014
Last Revised: 07/19/2016