What is Cervical Dysplasia?

The Basics of Cervical Dysplasia

Cervical Pap smear showing abnormal cells
Cervical Pap smear showing abnormal cells. Getty Images/Spike Walker/The Image Bank

Cervical dysplasia is a common condition that describes abnormal precancerous changes to the cervix. Abnormal changes can range from mild to severe and are detected through a routine Pap smear.

Although untreated cervical dysplasia may lead to cervical cancer in some cases, having cervical dysplasia does not mean that a person has cancer or will ever develop the disease. It is commonly treated first with monitoring to see if it persists, and then with outpatient procedures in the doctor's office.

Cervical Dysplasia Symptoms

Women with cervical dysplasia do not usually have any symptoms. This is the reason why having a regular Pap smear is so important. A regular Pap smear can detect these abnormal cervical changes long before they turn cancerous.

Cervical Dysplasia Causes

There is a strong connection between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical dysplasia. HPV is a common virus spread through sexual contact. For most women, HPV and cervical dysplasia will clear up on their own without medical treatment. However, for some women, HPV can lead to severe abnormal cervical changes. When these changes are left untreated, they can lead to cervical cancer.

Studies also show that women who smoke increase their risk for developing cervical dysplasia. It has been found that smoking can actually accelerate the effects of HPV on the cervix. This is yet another reason to kick the smoking habit as early as possible in life.

Other possible cervical dysplasia risk factors include:

Cervical Dysplasia Diagnosis

Cervical dysplasia is diagnosed by lab analysis of the Pap test, which takes a brush sample of the cells of the cervix. The lab looks for abnormal cells.

If they report atypical squamous cells of uncertain significance (ASC-US), the test may be repeated in 12 months and an HPV test may also be performed.

With repeat abnormal findings or if the HPV test is positive and you are over age 25, a biopsy may be done. This biopsy samples cervical cells that can then be further analyzed to determine if they are pre-cancerous, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). These are graded as CIN1 mild dysplasia, CIN2 moderate dysplasia and CIN3 severe dysplasia or carcinoma in situ.

Cervical Dysplasia Treatment

Treatment for cervical dysplasia removes the areas of abnormal cells so they can't continue to grow and to become cancerous. A colposcopy procedure may be done in the doctor's office or outpatient clinic. Cells may be removed for biopsy with a cold knife cone biopsy or with loop electrosurgical procedure (LEEP). The abnormal areas are treated by LEEP, cryosurgery or laser surgery. Local anesthetic is often used for these procedures. If the biopsy shows that there are abnormal cells at the edges of the sample, further treatment is done of the area to ensure they have removed all of the abnormal cells.

Follow-up exams are done to make sure the pre-cancers have not come back. If abnormal cells have returned, treatment is repeated.

If you have had an abnormal Pap smear, discuss treatment with your doctor so you know how they will be monitoring it or treating it.


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