is cervical dysplasia?
Cervical dysplasia is a condition in which
healthy cells on the cervix undergo some abnormal changes. The cervix is the
lower part of the uterus that leads into the vagina. It is the cervix that
dilates during childbirth to allow the fetus to pass through.
In cervical dysplasia, the abnormal cells are
not cancerous, but can develop into cancer if it is not caught early and
According to the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive
Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, every year in the United States
cervical dysplasia affects between 250,000 and 1 million women. It
is most often seen in women between the ages of 25 and 35.
What causes cervical dysplasia?
A common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical dysplasia.
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, and there are hundreds of strains. Some
are low-risk and cause genital warts.
Others are high-risk and cause cell changes
that can turn into cervical dysplasia and cancer.
According to the Journal
of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an estimated 26.8 percent of women
tested positive for one or more strains of HPV.
Are there risk factors for cervical dysplasia?
There are several risk factors for cervical
dysplasia, some of which relate directly to the risk of HPV:
- having an illness that suppresses the immune system
- being on immunosuppressant drugs
- having multiple sexual partners
- giving birth before the age of 16
- having sex before the age of 18
- smoking cigarettes
If you are sexually active, a condom might
reduce your risk of getting HPV. But the virus can still live on the skin
surrounding the genitals not covered by the condom.
Diagnosing cervical dysplasia
There are typically no symptoms of cervical
dysplasia. Occasionally, abnormal bleeding may occur. However, in the absence
of symptoms, the cell changes are invisible to the naked eye and are usually
found during a regular Pap test.
Pap test results will indicate a squamous
intraepithelial lesion (SIL). This indicates cellular tissue damage or
There are different categories of SIL,
- low-grade SIL (LSIL)
- high-grade SIL (HSIL)
- possibility of cancer
- atypical glandular cells (AGUS)
Many times, LSIL goes away on its own. Your
doctor might recommend a follow-up Pap test after several months to monitor the
cell changes. If your doctor is concerned, or you have high-grade changes, a
colposcopy may be done.
is an in office procedure that allows the doctor to get a very close view of
your cervix. A vinegar solution is applied to the cervix and a special light is
used. This makes any abnormal cells stand out.
The doctor can then take a small piece of
cervical tissue, called a biopsy, to send to a lab for further testing. If a
biopsy shows dysplasia, it is then classified as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).
There are three categories of CIN:
- CIN 1, mild dysplasia
- CIN 2, moderate dysplasia
- CIN 3, severe dysplasia, or carcinoma in situ
Carcinoma in situ is cancer that has not
spread below the surface layer of tissue.
Treatment of cervical dysplasia
Treatment of cervical dysplasia depends on
the severity of the condition. Mild dysplasia might not be treated immediately
since it can resolve without treatment. Repeat Pap smears may be done every
three to six months. For CIN 2 or 3, treatment can include:
- cryosurgery, which freezes abnormal cells
- laser therapy
- loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which uses electricity
to remove affected tissue
- cone biopsy, when a cone-shaped piece of the cervix is removed
from the location of the abnormal tissue
Dysplasia is usually caught early because of
regular Pap tests. Treatment typically cures cervical dysplasia, but it can
return. If no treatment is given, the dysplasia may get worse, potentially
turning into cancer.
Can cervical dysplasia be prevented?
The only definite way to prevent cervical
dysplasia is by practicing abstinence. There are a number of things you can do
to reduce your risk of getting HPV and cervical dysplasia:
- Practice safe sex by using a condom.
- Consider the HPV vaccine if you are between the ages of 9 and 26.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes.
- Wait to have sex until you are at least 18 years old.
- Avoid multiple sexual partners.
Talk with your doctor about your sexual
activity and steps that you can take to lower your risk of cervical dysplasia.