Most women feel fine after having treatment for abnormal cervical cells but some may feel unwell and need to go home and rest.
You can go home the same day you have treatment, unless you've had a hysterectomy or a cone biopsy. But you shouldn't plan to do anything else that day.
You may have period type pains for the rest of the day. Simple painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen usually help. Your doctor or specialist nurse (colposcopist) will talk to you about this before you go home.
You should expect to have some vaginal bleeding or discharge for some days after the treatment. It can carry on for up to 4 weeks. How long it lasts depends partly on the type of treatment you've had. You may have:
- light bleeding for days or weeks
- watery vaginal discharge
You are more likely to have bleeding, and it's more likely to be heavier, if you have treatment when your period is due. This is why doctors prefer to treat you between periods if possible.
See your GP or contact the colposcopy clinic if you have:
- discharge that smells unpleasant
- heavy bleeding or the bleeding lasts longer than 4 weeks
If you have an infection your GP can give you antibiotics.
Your emotions and feelings
These are often overlooked. But many women find that this type of treatment has an emotional effect on them. Some women may feel:
This is not really surprising. This is a very private area of your body. The undignified position needed for cervical screening or treatment can upset many women. The colposcopy staff are aware that women can feel like this, and so will try to make you feel as comfortable and at ease as possible.
Usually you get over these feelings with a little time. But if you feel you need help, you can talk to your GP about counselling.
Your privacy and dignity should be protected at all times when you're having these sorts of investigations and treatments.
If you feel your privacy or dignity were not properly protected, write to the nurse manager of the unit where you were treated. Your suggestions for improving things will help other women in the future and writing it down can also help you to get over your experience.
Some women find that needing to have treatment for abnormal cervical cells really worries them. This condition is often confused with cervical cancer. But even if you are clear about the difference, the experience can make you more worried about cancer in general.
Your colposcopist or nurse can answer any questions you have and help to reassure you.
Getting back to normal
You should have fully recovered from this type of treatment in about 6 weeks at the most. If you have had a small amount of laser treatment, you will get over it quicker than that.
Until any bleeding or discharge has stopped you should avoid:
- using tampons
- having sex
- going swimming
Talk with your colposcopist if you are unsure about anything.
You are invited back for a follow up screening test about 6 months after treatment for abnormal cervical cells. This may be done at the colposcopy clinic or your GP practice.
It's very important that you go to this appointment. The chances are that you won't have any further problems. Treatment is successful in more than 4 out of 5 women. If the abnormal cells do come back you will need to have more treatment.
The NHS screening programme has brought in testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV) as part of follow up. If your cell sample is normal, or shows borderline or mild cell changes, the sample will be checked for HPV:
- if no HPV is found, you won't need to have another screening test for 3 years
- if HPV is found, or you have moderate or severe cell changes, you go back to the colposcopy clinic to see if you need more treatment
Cervical screening after hysterectomy
You may still need follow up even if you have had a hysterectomy for abnormal cells. The cells for the test are taken from the top of the vagina, near where your cervix was. Your doctor may call this a vault smear.
Very rarely the abnormal cells can come back in this area, so you will be offered tests at 6 months and 18 months after your hysterectomy. If everything is fine, you won't need to have any more tests after that.
What happens if abnormal cells come back
Usually you can have more laser treatment or a LLETZ. You may need to have a cone biopsy.
But if the abnormal cells come back more than once, or if your doctor thinks the risks are too great, they may ask you to have a hysterectomy. This is to prevent you from developing cancer of the cervix in the future. Your doctor will talk through all the treatment options with you at every stage.
Your wishes will be taken into account when deciding what the best treatment is for you. Your decision may depend on whether you have had all the children you wish to have. Or whether you have reached the menopause.
Some women prefer to have a hysterectomy because they can then be satisfied that all the abnormal cells should have been taken away.
It is usually possible for you to keep your ovaries if you're having a hysterectomy for this reason, so the operation should not affect your hormones or send you into an early (premature) menopause. If your ovaries are removed before the menopause you may need hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Pregnancy after treatment
Unless you have had a hysterectomy, no treatment for abnormal cervical cells should make any difference to you getting pregnant in the future. Some of the treatments can lead to a small increase in risk of pregnancy complications.
For example, you may have a slightly increased risk of premature birth in future pregnancies. This means the baby might be born before the 37th week of pregnancy. This is more likely to happen if you've had repeated treatments or a lot of tissue removed.