Cervical dysplasia is a condition in which a woman has abnormal changes in the top layer of cells of her cervix. The cervix is the opening between the vagina and the uterus. The changes are local and have not spread more deeply into the cervix or to other sites in the body.
The cells of the cervix take months or even years to go through precancerous stages before full-blown cancer occurs. These changes are called cervical dysplasia. Catching and treating the changes early can prevent cancer of the cervix.
The cervix is the opening to the uterus. While it is located within a woman's vagina, its cells act very much like skin cells. The cells are exposed to toxins, viruses, and bacteria that may cause abnormal changes.
Each stage of dysplasia, or abnormal changes in the cells, is judged by the thickness of the cells that are abnormal. The earliest microscopic change is mild dysplasia or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, also referred to as CIN 1. If not treated, the precancerous changes may become moderate (CIN 2) and then severe (CIN 3). The fourth and most severe stage of dysplasia is called carcinoma in situ, or CIS. After that, cancer cells may invade deeper layers of the cervix or spread to nearby sites. At that point it is called invasive cancer of the cervix.
Cervical dysplasia is a precursor to cancer of the cervix, which is the second most common cancer of the female reproductive system. It occurs most often among women aged 40 to 55.
No one knows exactly what causes the abnormal changes that we call cervical dysplasia. Certain health problems, lifestyle choices, and other factors may raise a woman's risk for this. These include the following:
There are usually no symptoms associated with cervical dysplasia. If there are symptoms, they may be vague such as vaginal discharge or abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Diagnosis of cervical dysplasia is done with a pelvic examination that includes a Pap smear. During a pelvic exam, the cervix, vagina, and vulva are checked for signs of changes. To do a Pap smear, a provider uses a small spatula and a brush to gently scrape cells from the cervix. These cells are sent to a lab for testing.
If abnormalities are found, the Pap smear may be repeated in 3 months. Alternately, the healthcare provider may do additional tests, including:
Many times, cervical dysplasia can be stopped in its early stage by early detection. Cervical dysplasia can be detected by a pelvic examination that includes a Pap smear. Women should start to have Pap smears and pelvic exams when they reach the age of 16 or as soon as they become sexually active.
A woman can lower her risk for developing cervical dysplasia by taking the following steps:
A woman should ask her sexual partners about their sexual histories, so that those who seem to be high-risk can be avoided.
Identification of early warning signs of cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer is also important. A woman should see her healthcare provider and may need to be treated if she has any of the following signs or symptoms:
With early detection, treatment, and close follow-up care, nearly all cervical dysplasia can be cured. If untreated, the mild to moderate stages of dysplasia often grow more severe. Up to 30% to 50% of carcinoma in situ, or CIS, cases progress to invasive cancer of the cervix.
Cervical dysplasia is not contagious and does not pose a risk to others. Sexually transmitted diseases associated with cervical dysplasia, such as Chlamydia trachomatis\. Sexually transmitted disease refers to any contagious disease transmitted from one person to another during sexual contact. ',CAPTION,'Chlamydia');" onmouseout="return nd();">chlamydia and human papilloma virus, are contagious.
Early dysplasia can usually be treated with one of the following:
For more serious cases of cervical dysplasia, the abnormal tissue may be removed surgically. Options for surgical removal include the following:
During cryotherapy, women often feel cramping and pelvic discomfort. For about a month afterward, they have a great deal of watery vaginal discharge.
Laser surgery or LEEP can cause the following:
Possible side effects and complications of hysterectomy are as follows:
A woman may be advised to refrain from using tampons, having sexual intercourse, or douching for a period of time following a procedure to treat cervical dysplasia.
Women who have been treated for dysplasia should be closely followed with pelvic exams and Pap smears. During the first year after any treatment, Pap smears should be done every 3 to 4 months. In the second year, the schedule is every 6 months. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Eva Martin, MD
Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN