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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. 

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. 

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.

Read about side effects of treatment for cell changes (abnormal cells) > 

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.

It is usually safer to wait for about 4 weeks after treatment before flying. This is because any side effects will usually have stopped by then. 

If you have a holiday planned soon after your treatment, speak with your colposcopist beforehand. They can give the best advice about your situation. 

Treatment for cell changes are usually successful. After treatment for cell changes:

  • about 9 in 10 (90%) people will not have cell changes again  
  • fewer than 2 in 10 (between 5% and 15%) people will have cell changes that come back. 

It can be really upsetting if cell changes come back. But, just like before, you will have an expert team doing tests, monitoring or treatment. 

Read more about cell changes coming back > 

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. 

Read more about HPV-related cancers > 

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

Find out more about our support services > 

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

  • 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. 

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 >  

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 more about treating cell changes > 

After LLETZ, you may have some side effects of the treatment:

  • Bleeding – This can last up to 4 weeks and may be slightly heavier than your usual period
  • Changes to vaginal discharge – This can last up to 4 weeks and may be thicker, heavier or more watery than usual
  • Pain – A small level of pain may last for a day or so after treatment, but should not affect your day-to-day or get worse. It’s important to remember that we all experience pain differently, so try not to compare yourself to others. 

We all heal differently, but if you are worried about or struggling with any side effects, speak with your GP so they can give you the right care.

Read more about side effects of treatment for 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). 

Read more about CIN and 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.

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.

Read more about CIN and CGIN >

We don’t use the word ‘precancerous’. In our information, we talk about cell changes (abnormal cells), CIN or 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 >   

Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ) is the most common treatment for cell changes. It uses a thin wire loop with an electrical current to remove the area of the cervix where there are cell changes.

Read more about LLETZ > 

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 > 

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: 
01 Jul 2019
Date due for review: 
27 May 2022

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Have a chat with our trained helpliners to get your questions answered. Get information on HPV, cervical screening, the HPV vaccine, cell changes (abnormal cells) or cervical cancer. No question is too big or too small.