Did you know that 1 in 20 women will have an abnormal smear result? I didn’t. After receiving the letter in the post telling you that you have abnormal cell changes, you can feel totally overwhelmed and very much alone. If you’ve recently had an abnormal smear result and are waiting for a colposcopy, you may be wondering what on earth to expect. This post is all about my abnormal smear result and LLETZ procedure experience. I wanted to share this as when I did many hours of Googling during my darkest moments, all I could find were horror stories, which did not leave me feeling any better at all.
This story does result in a positive outcome, however for further information I do recommend visiting Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s website which has a wealth of resources and support.
Attending my cervical smear
At the beginning of December last year, I went for my cervical screening appointment. I had been putting it off for years due to being young and stupid, having two pregnancies in pretty quick succession, irregular bleeding after having the implant inserted and the pandemic.
I never took missing my appointments seriously and had a sort of ‘it will never happen to me‘ sort of attitude. I knew then and know now that this was absolutely stupid. A smear isn’t painful, it’s not embarrassing and the cervical screening problem has not only saved countless lives, it has reduced the number of cervical cancer diagnoses by nearly half over the last 20 years.
During my cervical screening appointment, the nurse told me she was not happy with the way my cervix looked and called the doctor in to have a look. They said it was inflamed and bled upon touching and they’d refer me for an urgent colposcopy to find out what was going on.
I broke down in tears, furious at myself that I’d put it off for so long and because of my stupidity, I now had cancer. I left the surgery in an absolute state and spent the next few days sobbing my heart out, wondering how my kids were going to cope without their mummy around.
Cervical screening results
I was told to expect my smear results in around four weeks, but less than a week later, the envelope landed on my doorstep. I already knew what it was going to say and the speed at which is arrived only confirmed my suspicions.
With shaking hands, I tore open the letter to find out my result was abnormal. I was HPV-positive with high grade severe dyskaryosis. In laymen’s terms, this meant I had severe cell changes, which left alone, had the possibility of developing into cancer in future. I had been expecting as much, but seeing it written down knocked the wind out of me.
The letter went on to explain that these call changes almost never meant cancer, but I furiously started Googling and got myself into a hole of worry and panic.
I now had over a week to wait for my colposcopy appointment which felt like the longest wait in the world. Every day I woke up with a feeling of dread, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I felt nauseous and I couldn’t stop crying. It was horrendous. I lost around half a stone in weight.
I spent many hours Googling and found that the chances of me having cervical cancer were very small (1 in 2000 people who have an abnormal cervical screening result find they have cervical cancer at their colposcopy appointment) but the fact that it had been so long since my last smear and the severe changes, even the positive stats couldn’t stop me from worrying and panicking.
Two weeks to the day of my cervical screening appointment, I attended my local hospital for the colposcopy. I had no idea what to expect.
During the previous two weeks I’d been Googling to read other people’s colposcopy experiences and read all sort of things that had frightened the life out of me. Many were told they had cancer there and then, others were told there was nothing to worry about, many were told they needed treatment. I prayed and prayed everything would be okay.
On arrival, I sat in the waiting room, mask on and after five or so minutes was called into the Colposcopy area by the Colposcopy nurse. I was placed in a side room whilst the consultant read my notes and then was called in.
In the room were two Colposcopy nurses and the female consultant. I sat down and the consultant asked me if I knew why I was there.
She explained that abnormal cells had been found in my smear result and that it wasn’t cancer. At this point, I felt a huge rush of relief, but still apprehensive as I couldn’t understand how she could know this without having actually had a look yet.
She advised that I have the LLETZ procedure there and then to get rid of the abnormal cells or my other option was to have a biopsy at a later date. I just wanted everything abnormal removed so agreed to the LLETZ immediately.
She checked with me several times if I wanted to go ahead. with Christmas only a few days away she explained I would be in some pain and have some heavy bleeding. I laughed and said that thanks to the pandemic it wasn’t as if we were going anywhere nice and agreed that having the procedure now would be the best option.
The consultant and the nurses ran through the risks of the procedure and how I’d need to look after myself afterwards. I was then sent back to the side room to take the bottom half of my clothes off and wrap a sheet around me to protect my modesty.
LLETZ procedure experience
Coming back into the main Colposcopy area, I sat on the chair and placed my legs in the stirrups. A speculum was placed in my vagina to open it up and then the consultant used a microscope to examine inside.
The microscope doesn’t touch the vagina or vulva and the images are shown on a screen so both nurses can see too. This screen was pointed away from me.
The LLETZ procedure should take around 15 minutes and it begins with the consultant administering an anaesthetic to numb to cervix. The consultant explained it would be painful but it was vital I stayed absolutely still so that the needle didn’t accidentally cut the vaginal walls which would be even more painful.
The anaesthetic worked very quickly and as it did, I felt my heart begin to pump very hard and quickly. The anaesthetic contains adrenaline which makes this happen and your legs can feel a bit wobbly too, but after a few minutes, everything felt normal again.
The nurses kept chatting to me throughout the procedure to take my mind off what was going on below. Because of the pandemic, we were all wearing masks so sometimes if I closed my eyes, they’d quickly ask if I was okay as it was quite difficult for them to see my reactions.
The consultant used the large loop to remove the abnormal cells and the nurse used a suction to get rid of the bleeding. This was quite noisy and sounded like a hoover, but they reassured me this was all perfectly normal.
Cauterising the cervix
Once the abnormal cells are removed, the wound is cauterized to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, it took a while for my cervix to stop so the procedure went on for nearly 30 minutes, but we got there eventually.
The cells were placed in a sample pot and whisked away and I was able to sit back up and gear myself up to go and get dressed.
After two weeks of barely eating or sleeping, I did feel quite woozy after the procedure, but I had come by myself (again due to the pandemic) so I knew I had to summon all the strength within me to get dressed and get back home.
The nurses offered me a drink and something to eat, but I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible…it sounds ridiculous, but in my head I wanted to get away before they changed their mind and said it WAS cancer. So I went back to the side room, got dressed and went back into the Colposcopy room for a quick final debrief.
My post-LLETZ procedure experience
The nurses gave me some literature on how to look after myself and what to expect in the days and weeks following the LLETZ procedure and I quickly headed to my car to get home as soon as possible.
I started experiencing period type pain almost immediately and had pretty heavy bleeding for a couple of days which then eased off into bloody discharge in the weeks that followed.
I felt emotionally drained. After two weeks of barely eating and sleeping, having the LLETZ procedure felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I felt so, so tired and ready to sleep for a hundred years. I got into bed and ate some cookies my friend gave me and had a big cup of tea.
My husband then came home with the kids, gave me some paracetamol and ibuprofen and got me a hot water bottle and some cookies so I could curl up in bed for the next 24 hours.
I bought some comfy pads (tampons aren’t allowed for 4 weeks) and got my huge knickers and comfy clothes on and stayed like this for a few days until I was feeling lots better.
The weeks that followed the LLETZ procedure
I was told by the nurses to expect my results in around four weeks. After a euphoric few days of feeling relived, I went back into panic mode. Results? So I could still have cancer? The next four weeks felt like a lifetime.
I stopped Googling and tried to focus on living as healthy a life as possible. I started running, began long walks and started eating healthier. I had to focus on getting my body in the best shape possible to beat cancer if it was indeed cancer.
I spotted gritty discharge for three weeks and then had my period which was long and heavy. By the time the four weeks was up, it felt weird to not be bleeding!
During this time, I didn’t have baths, avoided using tampons and abstained from sex. The risk of infection after a LLETZ procedure is quite high, so I changed my pads very regularly and took regular showers to keep clean.
Four weeks and two days later, I received my results by post. The abnormal cells were classified as CIN2/3 which means they are pre-cancerous. The letter explained that the consultant believed all the cells had been removed but I’d be invited to a test of cure smear six months later to make sure I was HPV-negative and the abnormal cells were all gone. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Test of cure smear
Six months after receiving lletz treatment, you are invited to your GP surgery for a test of cure smear. This is a regular smear test which will check to see if you still have HPV and make sure the lletz treatment was successful.
If this test of cure smear finds you have HPV, your sample will be tested for abnormalities and you’ll be asked to return to colposcopy.
If you are HPV negative, you’ll return to three yearly smears.
I had my test of cure smear in June 2021, six months after my lletz treatment.
I’d had to cancel my first appointment as I’d suddenly come on my period (thanks implant!) and then the nurse was away, so had to wait another two weeks.
I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous after the horrendous experience I’d had the first time and as soon as I was in the room I broke down in tears.
The nurse was very reassuring and assured me my reaction was normal. She had a look and took the swab and said everything looked good to her this time around. She promised me the results would be back within two weeks and if they weren’t to call her.
11 days later on a Friday afternoon, the letter landed on my doormat. I shakily ripped open the envelope to read: HPV negative – you can return to normal smears – next one due June 2024.
To say I cried tears of joy is an understatement. I shakily text all those who’d helped me through this horrendous experience to let them know the good news and hugged my littlest so, so tight.
I’ve been lucky. I’d put off my smears for years and the result was six months of stress and worry about abnormalities that could have been picked up years ago.
I’ll never miss a cervical screening examination again.
Commonly asked questions about my LLETZ procedure experience
What is a LLETZ procedure?
LLETZ stands for Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone and is a procedure to remove abnormal cells from the cervix. It is also known as LEEP.
Does the LLETZ procedure hurt?
The administration of the anaesthetic can feel like a sharp scratch, but after that you won’t feel a thing. Afterwards, you may experience period type cramps.
How did you feel after your LLETZ procedure experience?
I felt tired, crampy, relieved and teary. Everyone will experience different emotions and physical responses I’m sure.
Can I go back to work after a LLETZ procedure?
I took the afternoon off work following my procedure because I felt so exhausted. In my case, I hadn’t sleep properly for two weeks, had not been eating properly and felt absolutely exhausted.
I was also experiencing quite strong period type cramps which were uncomfortable and all I wanted to do was lie in bed and get some well deserved rest.
The following day I was fine to return to work.
Are there any side effects from having a LLETZ procedure?
There are a few side effects that can occur from your LLETZ procedure, but your consultant will talk through all of these with you to ensure you’re fully informed before going ahead.
What is HPV
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that will affect 80% of the population during their lifetime. Normally the body clears HPV on its own, but if it sticks around, then the HPV can cause cells on the cervix to become CIN.
How can I get rid of HPV?
Your body needs to clear this infection on its own therefore there is not much you can do to get rid of HPV. A strong immune system is key, so stop smoking, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and get lots of rest to keep your body strong.
What is CIN?
CIN stands for cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia and are abnormal cells on the cervix. The abnormal cells are graded 1-3, with CIN3 being the most severe.
CIN is not cancer, but there is a risk that these cells could turn cancerous if left untreated.
Where can I find support?
I highly recommend turning to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s website for support and information you can trust.
They have a forum where you can chat to other people in the same boat as you.
I hope this post about my LLETZ procedure experience has helped you in some way. Whether you’re waiting for a colposcopy appointment or you’ve already had one and have decided to have a LLETZ procedure based on biopsy results, I wish you all the luck in the world.
My LLETZ procedure experience definitely sounds a lot scarier than what it was and the important thing is that this procedure will get rid of those abnormal cells that could potentially turn cancerous in the future.
Tell me about your LLETZ procedure experience below (if you feel up to it) and hopefully this can be a positive place for people to learn more about what they are and how they can help.