When abnormal cells are found on the cervix this condition is called dysplasia. Cervical dysplasia is considered to be a pre-cancerous condition.
There are three grades of dysplasia: mild, moderate, and severe. Mild dysplasia can disappear on its own or it can be the first step towards cervical cancer.
The exact cause of cervical dysplasia is not known, but a number of different factors have been identified. For example, the risk of developing cervical dysplasia appears to be slightly higher after exposure to those types of human papilloma virus (HPV) that cause genital warts. Other risk factors for the development of cervical dysplasia include unprotected sex at an early age, unprotected sex with many partners, and becoming pregnant before age 20. However, exactly how these risk factors are connected to cervical dysplasia is unknown. Smoking also increases the risk of developing cervical dysplasia.
Having annual Pap smear tests is crucial for detecting and monitoring cervical dysplasia.
Dysplasia can occur at any age from puberty onward. It’s usually found in women between the ages of 25 and 35.
HOW CERVICAL DYSPLASIA IS DIAGNOSED
When a Pap smear test reveals cervical dysplasia, another Pap smear is usually ordered to confirm the first test result.
If abnormal cells are still present, a procedure called a colposcopy may be performed. The colposcope magnifies and focuses an intense light on the cervix, this allows the doctor to observe the cervix in greater detail.
The doctor can then take a biopsy, a piece of the cervix to be analyzed. If the biopsy shows that abnormal cell growth extends into the cervical canal, a cone biopsy may be performed. This is when a cone-shaped tissue sample is removed for analysis. This procedure may be done in a hospital using general anesthesia or in a doctor’s office.
HOW CERVICAL DYSPLASIA IS TREATED
If you are diagnosed with cervical dysplasia, the treatment depends on the degree of abnormality of the cells. Mild dysplasia may not require treatment because the abnormal cells revert to normal in up to 4 in 10 cases.
Removal of the dysplastic cells is usually recommended since the presence of this abnormal tissue seems to increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. This is done by cauterization, cryosurgery or laser surgery. Cauterization uses heat, electricity or chemicals to burn the abnormal tissue off the cervix. Cryosurgery freezes the cells and laser surgery destroys the cells with a laser. After treatment, you may have a bloodstained discharge for a few weeks.
Frequent pap smears (every 6 months) are usually recommended to evaluate if the treatment was successful.