Squamous Cells - Potentially Affected by HPV

Skin Cells
Scanning Electron Micrograph of Skin Cells. Science Photo Library/Getty Images

What is a Squamous Cell?

A squamous cell is a type of epithelial cell. These cells are found in many locations of the body. Many people think of epithelial cells as "skin" cells. However, epithelial cells can actually be found covering many layers of the human body - not just the outside.

Squamous cells are flat epithelial cells. In contrast, cuboid epithelial cells are square and columnar epithelial cells are rectangular.

Squamous cells are found in many parts of the body. You can find squamous cells in the mouth, on the lips, and on the cervix. They are also seen in the middle layers of the skin. Squamous cells are pretty utilitarian epithelial cells. They used for covering just about everywhere.

Most people only become familiar with the term squamous cell when they are diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma. This is a type of cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas are the most common cancer of the oral cavity. These cancers are also commonly found in the cervix and the skin.

Squamous Cells & Cervical Cancer

There is another reason that women may be familiar with the term squamous cell.  Potentially precancerous, abnormal Pap smear results are diagnosed as squamous intraepithelial lesions. When you receive this diagnosis, squamous cells found in the cervix have taken on an abnormal morphology, or shape. However, these cells have not necessarily become cancerous.

In fact, low grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSIL), or cervical dysplasias, often heal themselves without any intervention.

Most of these cervical cancers and pre-cancers are caused by infections with HPV. Human papillomavirus infects and transforms the squamous cells of the cervix. It can also infect and transform the cells of other tissues in the body.

Depending on circumstances, over time, healthy cells may replace these transformed cells or they may continue growing abnormally and become cancerous.

A Word from Verywell

It's understandable that abnormal Pap smear results can seem upsetting. However, it's important to know that many cervical changes go away on their own. This isn't just true for ASCUS smears -- atypical cells of uncertain significance. Many pre-cancerous lesions also go away on their own within a year or two.

Therefore, if you have an abnormal Pap smear, resist the urge to panic! Instead, talk to your doctor about the steps you want to take going forward. Your doctor may advise treatment. However, they may also take a wait and see approach. A large research study has shown that women who have a follow up Pap smear six months after an abnormal low-grade smear do just as well as those who receive a colposcopy and biopsy. These are more  invasive forms of testing and treatment. 

Source:
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R. Abu-Eid and G. Landini "Tissue Architecture and Cell Morphology of Squamous Cell Carcinomas Compared to Granular Cell Tumours’ Pseudo-epitheliomatous Hyperplasia and to Normal Oral Mucosae." in Losa GA et al. (ed) (2005) Fractals in Biology and Medicine

So KA, Kim MJ, Lee KH, Lee IH, Kim MK, Hwang CS, Jeong MS, Kee MK, Kang C, Cho CH, Kim SM, Hong SR, Kim KT, Lee WC, Park JS, Kim TJ. The Impact of High-Risk HPV Genotypes Other Than HPV 16/18 on the Natural Course of Abnormal Cervical Cytology; A Korean HPV Cohort Study. Cancer Res Treat. 2016 Mar 9. doi: 10.4143/crt.2016.013.

Stephenson RD, Denehy TR. Rapid spontaneous regression of acute-onset vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia 3 in young women: a case series. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2012 Jan;16(1):56-8. doi: 10.1097/LGT.0b013e31822d93ee.

Sundström K, Lu D, Elfström KM, Wang J, Andrae B, Dillner J, Sparén P. Follow-Up of Women with Cervical Cytological Abnormalities Showing Ascus or LSIL: a Nationwide Cohort Study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Jul 22. pii: S0002-9378(16)30477-X. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.07.042.

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