I’d never even heard of a Lletz procedure before I had one myself late last year. That might just be me, though. I also thought Mount Everest was in the Peak District until I was 22.
A Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone – or LLETZ for short – is the treatment most commonly used to remove abnormal cervical cells.
These are usually detected through routine cervical screening. All women aged 25 to 49 are eligible for screening once every three years, rising to once every five years for women aged 50 to 64.
One in 20 women will get an abnormal result and some, like me, will be referred on for further investigation.
The pre-C word
We need to take a moment and talk about abnormal cells, also referred to as precancerous cells. These are not cancer and they do not mean you are going to get cancer Just over 3,000 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in the UK in 2015, according to the latest figures from Cancer Research UK, which is a relatively tiny figure when you consider that there are over 32 million women living in the UK.
It’s normal to feel anxious about precancerous cells – cancer is built right into the title – but they are simply cells that, if left untreated, may require attention in the future. If you have an abnormal result, it is likely you will be referred on for a colposcopy, a procedure in which a small microscope is inserted into the cervix.
It is performed in hospital and I am happy to confirm it is painless. You may, like me, have a biopsy at the same time, where a small section of cervical lining is removed and sent off for analysis.
Despite how it sounds, this is also pain-free. Let’s talk about Lletz Three weeks after my colposcopy, the results were in. I had mild to moderate precancerous cells and would need a Lletz procedure to have the cells removed.
Alternative treatments include cryotherapy, when the cells are frozen, and targeted laser treatment, but Lletz is by far the most usual, and it’s safe, quick and highly effective. I arrive for my Lletz on the allotted day and am soon ushered into a private room by a very lovely nurse.
I strip from the waist down – I mean, she asked me to – hop up on the bed and put my feet in the stirrups, exposing my vagina to all and sundry. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt along my gynaecological journey, it’s that you might as well check your embarrassment at the door.
Not only have all the medical staff I encountered been exceptionally professional, there’s no point in feigning decency when you’re pants off, legs up. I say, lie back and enjoy the breeze.
First up – literally – was my old pal the speculum, fully lubed up and ready to open up my cervix. It doesn’t hurt but it does feel unusual, like your vagina is trying to yawn. Next was the same type of microscope I had met at my colposcopy.
A second nurse switched on the TV monitor by my head and, suddenly there was the inside of my cervix in HD. ‘You don’t have to look,’ said nice nurse number two.
But I was transfixed, because how often do view your own innards? Lovely nurse one dabbed dye on the abnormal cells to make them show up in white, and engaged me in light chitchat as she worked.
We talked about my work, her daughter and the extortionate cost of train travel. While it sounds like an odd scenario for gabbing, I found the whole process went more smoothly if I relaxed, did a bit of deep breathing and thought about South Western Rail