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Cell changes FAQs

On this page, we answer some common questions about cervical cell changes (abnormal cells), including some about treatments like LLETZ. 

About cell changes

Sometimes, our cells act in ways they shouldn’t and become abnormal. We call this a ‘change’. 

Depending on where cell changes are, they may be called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or cervical glandular intraepithelial neoplasia (CGIN). 

Cell changes aren’t always a problem. But it’s important to keep an eye on them, to check whether they may develop further and need treatment.

Read more about CIN and CGIN >

Sometimes people use the words ‘precancerous cells’ when talking about CIN or CGIN. This does not mean CIN or CGIN will definitely develop into cervical cancer. It just means that the cells are abnormal, but are not cancer cells.

We don’t use the word ‘precancerous’. In our information, we talk about cell changes, CIN or CGIN. 

Read more about CIN and CGIN >

Adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS) is another name for CGIN. 

Read more about CGIN >

Cell changes like CIN and CGIN do not cause symptoms. They are usually found after colposcopy. 

Read more about colposcopy >

If you have any symptoms, such as vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you, see your GP straight away. These symptoms are usually caused by conditions that aren’t cervical cancer, but it is important to get them checked out.

Read more about symptoms of cervical cancer >  

Treating cell changes

Cell changes are treated at colposcopy. You may be offered treatment:

  • during your first appointment
  • at a separate appointment, once your biopsy results have come back.

You usually have treatment as an outpatient. This means you have it at the colposcopy clinic in the hospital, but can come home the same day.

There are different treatments for cell changes. The treatment you have will depend on:

  • the type and grade of the cell changes
  • the discussion you and your colposcopist have about treatment options
  • your preference.

Read about treatment for cell changes >

Treatments for cell changes are usually successful and 9 in 10 people will not have cell changes again.

Read about treatment for cell changes >

Even though cell changes aren’t cervical cancer, you are sometimes offered treatment to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer in the future.

Read more about CIN and CGIN >  

After LLETZ, your colposcopist may recommend avoiding the following until any side effects stop: 

  • tampons – try using sanitary pads instead
  • penetrative vaginal sex
  • swimming.

Side effects usually last about 4 weeks. Remember, not everyone heals at the same speed and side effects can vary. If you are worried about anything, speak with your colposcopist or GP.

Read more about healing after LLETZ >

After LLETZ, it is important to listen to your body and take any time you need to rest. We all heal at different rates, so what feels right for someone else may not be right for you.

You can exercise as soon as you feel ready. Remember, any side effects usually last for about 4 weeks, so you may want to avoid heavy exercise during that time. If you do exercise, any bleeding may be a little heavier afterward.

If you have any worries or want to ask about a specific exercise, you can speak with your colposcopist before LLETZ. Or you can ask your GP, who knows your full medical history.

Read about side effects of treatment for cell changes >

After LLETZ, side effects can last for about 4 weeks, so it is best not to have penetrative vaginal sex. This includes:

  • vaginal sex – for example, being penetrated by a penis, dildo or other object
  • fingering (having fingers inside your vagina)
  • oral sex (having a tongue inside your vagina).

The general rule is don’t put anything in your vagina while you have any side effects. If you want to have anal sex or clitoral stimulation, this shouldn’t make any side effects worse. 

If you are worried or have specific questions, it is best to speak to your colposcopist before treatment. Or you could speak to your GP, who knows your full medical history. 

If you have a holiday planned soon after your treatment, speak with your colposcopist beforehand. They may recommend you don’t fly until any side effects have stopped – these may last for about 4 weeks.

As most cell changes are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV), researchers have looked at whether there is a link between having cell changes and a higher risk of developing HPV-related cancers. 

Most people with cell changes will not develop a HPV-related cancer. However, having cell changes is linked to an increased risk of developing cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers, such as vulval, vaginal and anal cancer.

While this may sound scary, it is important to remember that each of these cancers makes up less than 1% of all cancers diagnosed every year in the UK. This means that even with an increased risk, the likelihood of developing one of these cancers is low. 

If you are worried about cervical cancer, remember that we are here to support you.

Get support >

If you are worried about other HPV-related cancers or need more support, there are organisations that can help, including:

  • Cancer Research UK – Has information about a range of cancers, including symptoms and risk factors. 
  • The Eve Appeal – Offers information and support through a website, online community, and an Ask Eve service, where questions are submitted to a nurse.
  • The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation – Has information about HPV and anal cancer, as well as a peer-to-peer support network. 
  • Macmillan Cancer Support – Offers information and support on a range of cancers online and over the phone via a free Support Line. 

Cell changes and coronavirus

The current evidence does not suggest that you are more at risk of getting coronavirus or becoming seriously ill with it if you have or have had cell changes or treatment. This includes any grade of cell changes (CIN 1, CIN 2, CIN 3 or CGIN). 

If LLETZ or any other treatment for cell changes has been postponed, your doctor will have made that decision based on your individual situation and risk. It is important that you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus and, at the moment, the risk of you going to the hospital and potentially coming into contact with coronavirus may be greater than the risk of your treatment being postponed. 

We know you may still worry why this has happened and what it means for you. Your healthcare team at the hospital will be able to answer these questions best, but we hope the below offers some reassurance too.

It takes a very long time for cell changes to develop into something more serious – usually between 5 and 20 years. Sometimes low grade cell changes go back to normal by themselves, without treatment. It may also help to remember that cervical cancer itself is rare and most people will not develop it. If you want to talk any of this through, our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

Get support >

If you are currently being monitored or have had treatment for cell changes, you may be concerned if your follow up appointments temporarily stop. In these unusual circumstances, your doctor may decide it is safer for appointments to be postponed to make sure you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus. If this happens, you do not need to do anything except follow the government advice to stay at home as much as possible.

It may help to remember that having HPV or cell changes in the past does not mean you will still have them. About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years and many cell changes go back to normal without treatment. If you have had treatment, it is usually very successful at removing cell changes. It’s also good to remember that cervical cancer itself develops very slowly and is rare, so most people will not develop it at all. 

We know this might not answer all of your concerns, so if you want to talk any of this through our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

Get support >

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

  • NHS England and Public Health England (2020). NHS Cervical Screening Programme – Colposcopy: Initial guidance during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
  • Public Health England (2020). Cervical screening: programme and colposcopy management. www.gov.uk/government/publications/cervical-screening-programme-and-colposcopy-management. Accessed May 2020.
  • The British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (2019). For women – Frequently asked questions.
  • Lili, E., et al (2018). Low recurrence rate of high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia after successful excision and routine colposcopy during follow-up. Medicine.
  • Sharp, L., et al (2009). After‐effects reported by women following colposcopy, cervical biopsies and LLETZ: results from the TOMBOLA trial. BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

Questions?

If you have questions or concerns about cell changes (abnormal cells), get a confidential response from a medical professional.

Ask the Expert
Date last updated: 
15 May 2020
Date due for review: 
27 May 2022
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