What can you tell me about laser treatment for CIN 1?
I recently had a colposcopy and the doctors found that I have “CIN 1.” Now I have to get a laser treatment that will burn the abnormal cells. I’m nervous...what are the risks involved and the side effects of the operation?
Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 23, 2011
Thanks for your question. I’m happy to offer you some information about your diagnosis and procedure, but I also encourage you to speak with your doctor about the specific aspects of your treatment.
First, what does CIN mean? The term “CIN” (which stands for cervical intraepithelian neoplasia) is used by doctors to describe cells in your cervix that look abnormal. It means that there’s something different about the skin cells of your cervix. Doctors use numbers to indicate how big of a change they see in the cells. If you have CIN 1, it means that the change is mild; if you have CIN 2, the change is moderate; and CIN 3 indicates something more serious.
Also, you’re not alone in your diagnosis...about 4% of women who have cervical cancer screenings find out they have CIN 1 and another 5% find out they have CIN 2 or 3. The good news is that your abnormal cells were detected early...before they had a chance to turn cancerous.
You asked specifically about a laser procedure...and it’s relatively simple. In 2006, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology developed guidelines for treating women with any kind of CIN. After finding CIN 1, doctors choose the best treatment for their patients based on several factors. They can cut away the bad cells (excision). Or they can freeze them or blast them with a laser (ablation). Most of the time, doctors will choose to use a laser when they are less worried about studying your cells...maybe because they’ve already taken a sample of cells during your colposcopy.
When doctors use a laser to get rid of pre-cancerous cervical cells, they’re really just using a high energy light beam. For this type of procedure, people typically go to an operating room and are given general anesthesia. The doctor will then point the laser through the vagina at the abnormal cells and the laser will destroy them.
What will happen after the procedure? You’ll probably want to have someone pick you up and drive you home after the surgery. Then, you should just let your vagina and cervix heal for a few weeks...that means no sexual intercourse, no tampons, no douching, no swimming and no baths (although showering is okay).
Many women will have vaginal discharge for up to two weeks after the procedure ⎼ that’s completely normal. But you should also notify your doctor if you have very heavy menstrual bleeding (for example, if you are soaking a pad in less than an hour), if you have a lot of pain, if you have a high fever of 101º F or more, or if your vaginal discharge smells bad.
After a few weeks, you’ll go visit your doctor again to make sure your cervix is healing. And for the first year or so, you’ll have a Pap test every six months to monitor your cells and make sure that everything is healing right.
What are the risks and side effects? There aren’t many...most women are cured after their first treatment and risks of infection are low. If you plan to get pregnant, guidelines advise you to wait 6-12 months after the procedure so that your tissues can fully heal. Also, luckily for you, laser removal of bad cells doesn’t have any risk of preterm delivery if you do get pregnant (excision procedures do have a small risk).
I hope this information helps put your mind at ease about laser treatment for CIN 1. I wish you good luck and a speedy recovery.
Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.