Cervical dysplasia at a glance
- Cervical dysplasia is the abnormal growth of cells lining the surface of the cervix.
- While not cancerous, severe cervical dysplasia can lead to cervical cancer when untreated.
- Cervical dysplasia ranges from mild to severe cases, with mild cases often resolving on their own without treatment.
- Cervical dysplasia has no symptoms, so it is important that women have regular Pap smears to test for dysplasia.
- Women can also help protect themselves by getting vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), a leading risk factor for cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.
What is cervical dysplasia?
Cervical dysplasia occurs when atypical cells line the surface of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of a woman’s womb (uterus), which is located between the bladder and the rectum.
These abnormal cells are called premalignant or precancerous cells, meaning they might turn into cancer if not found and treated early enough.
Regular Pap smears are an important detection tool because many women do not experience any symptoms of cervical dysplasia. Women of any age can have cervical dysplasia but it most commonly affects women age 25-35.
Cervical dysplasia stages are classified as:
- Low-grade, or LSIL (low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion)
- High-grade (HSIL)
- Possibly cancerous (malignant)
- Atypical glandular cells of undetermined significance (AGUS).
Cervical dysplasia becomes cancer of the cervix when the abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix (dysplasia) multiply out of control and spread deeper into the cervix.
What causes cervical dysplasia?
The exact cause of cervical dysplasia is unclear. Research suggests a strong link to certain strains of HPV, a common sexually transmitted virus that has many strains, some producing cervical dysplasia and cancer and others that may produce genital warts.
Other risk factors
- Having sexual intercourse or a baby before age 18
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having other illnesses such as HIV or using medicines that suppress the immune system
Women should avoid the potential risk factors above. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two vaccines – Gardasil and Cervarix – to protect against HPV, which is the suspected cause of most cervical dysplasia cases. Although the HPV vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of cervical dysplasia it doesn’t guarantee that a woman won’t develop the disease.
Women should still have regular Pap tests to detect cervical dysplasia and treat it in its early stage.
Cervical dysplasia diagnosis and treatment
Cervical dysplasia has no symptoms and is typically discovered only during a Pap smear. If a woman has an abnormal Pap smear her physician may recommend a colposcopy, a magnified view of the cervix, vagina and vulva, to examine cells more closely and to gather tissue for further analysis.
Treatment for cervical dysplasia depends on the severity of the condition. Mild dysplasia may go away on it’s own without treatment.
Treatment for moderate-to-severe dysplasia or mild dysplasia that does not go away on its own may include:
- Laser therapy to burn away abnormal tissue
- Cone biopsy or LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) to remove abnormal tissue
- Cryosurgery to freeze abnormal cells.
These treatments may cause heavy bleeding or possible pregnancy complications, so it is important that patients always discuss treatment options with their doctor. Patients who have had cervical dysplasia will also need regular Pap exams (typically annually) or as recommended by their physician to ensure the disease does not recur.