Cervical Dysplasia – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
What is cervical dysplasia?
Cervical dysplasia refers to the development of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina. These changes are not cancerous, but they are considered to be precancerous. This means they can lead to cancer of the cervix if not treated. Cervical dysplasia can develop at any age.
What causes cervical dysplasia?
Most of the time, cervical dysplasia is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual contact. There are many types of HPV. Some types lead to cervical dysplasia or cancer.
The following things may increase your risk for cervical dysplasia:
- Having sex before age 18
- Having a baby before age 16
- Having had multiple sexual partners
- Having other illnesses, such as diabetes or HIV
- Using medicines that suppress your immune system
What are the symptoms of cervical dysplasia?
In most of the cases, there are no symptoms.
How is cervical dysplasia diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a pelvic exam. The doctor will do a test called Pap smear to diagnose cervical dysplasia.
Cervical dysplasia that is seen on a Pap smear is called squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL). On the Pap smear report, these changes will be described as:
- Low-grade (LSIL)
- High-grade (HSIL)
- Possibly cancerous (malignant)
- Atypical glandular cells (AGUS)
- Atypical squamous cells
Your doctor will do more tests if a Pap smear shows abnormal cells or cervical dysplasia. If the changes are mild, follow-up Pap smears may be recommended.
Your doctor may also do a biopsy to confirm the condition. This is usually done using colposcopy-directed biopsy. A colposcopy is a procedure performed in your doctor’s office. Any areas of concern will be biopsied. The biopsies are very small and most women feel only a small cramp.
Dysplasia that is seen on a biopsy of the cervix is called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). It is grouped into 3 categories:
- CIN I — mild dysplasia
- CIN II — moderate to marked dysplasia
- CIN III — severe dysplasia of carcinoma in situ
Some strains of HPV are known to cause cervical cancer. An HPV DNA test can identify the high-risk types of HPV linked to this cancer. This test is usually done as a screening test for women over age 30 and women of any age who have a slightly abnormal Pap test result.
How is cervical dysplasia treated?
Treatment depends on the degree of dysplasia. Mild dysplasia (LSIL or CIN I) may go away without treatment. You may only need careful follow-up by your doctor with repeat Pap smears every 6 to 12 months. If the changes do not go away or get worse, treatment is needed.
Treatment for moderate-to-severe dysplasia or mild dysplasia that does not go away may include:
- Cryosurgery to freeze abnormal cells
- Laser therapy, which uses light to burn away abnormal tissue
- LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure), which uses electricity to remove abnormal tissue
- Surgery to remove the abnormal tissue (cone biopsy)
- Hysterectomy (in rare cases)
If you have had dysplasia, you will need to have repeat exams every 12 months or as recommended by your doctor.
Make sure to get the HPV vaccine when it is offered to you. This vaccine prevents many cervical cancers.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.