What is cervical dysplasia?
Cervical dysplasia means abnormal cells found in your cervix
. These abnormal cells can be seen on a Pap smear
When a girl has cervical dysplasia, the abnormal cells occur in only part of the thickness of the surface of the cervix. When someone has cervical cancer
, those abnormal cells fill the entire thickness of the surface of the cervix and extend into the deeper layers.
Cervical dysplasia is a precancerous condition. But if it's treated, it usually won't progress to cancer. back to top
How do you get cervical dysplasia?
Cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer are probably caused by the same virus that causes genital warts
, which is a sexually transmitted disease
(STD). Researchers have found that this virus, called the human papilloma virus
(HPV), leads to cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.
Your chances of getting HPV are higher if you were sexually active at an early age and you've had many sexual partners. You also increase the risk if you smoke. No one knows exactly how cigarette smoking leads to cervical dysplasia or cancer. But the chemicals in cigarette smoke tend to build up in the cervix over time. back to top
Can I prevent cervical dysplasia?
You can reduce your risk of getting cervical dysplasia if you avoid sexual intercourse
until after your teenage years, and if you limit the number of your sexual partners. back to top
How do I know if I have cervical dysplasia?
The Pap smear
is a test that determines if you have cervical dysplasia. During a Pap smear, your health professional scrapes cells from your cervix
and spreads them on a glass slide. The slide is sent to a lab where it's examined under a microscope. If abnormal cells are found, your health professional will notify you to make an appointment to get more tests done.
You can't tell if you have cervical dysplasia from your period
or any other outward signs. To find out, you need to have a Pap smear so your doctor can examine the cells from your cervix. back to top
What happens if my Pap smear is abnormal?
It depends on what's seen in your Pap smear. Sometimes a Pap smear result just says "inflammation." That might or might not mean you have cervical dysplasia or another problem. If this happens, you'll need to have another Pap smear in 1 to 3 months. If you have cervical dysplasia, your health professional will send you to a gynecologist
to be examined.
The next steps are colposcopy
. Colposcopy is just like a pelvic exam, except that the gynecologist uses a magnifying microscope to examine your cervix. He or she will swab diluted vinegar on your cervix to highlight the abnormal cervical cells. Don't worry, the vinegar won't burn at all. It's used because it makes the abnormal cells glow white.
Once the abnormal areas are highlighted, your gynecologist will take a sample of them. A special instrument is used to remove small pieces of tissue from the cervix. This procedure is called a biopsy
. A specialist called a pathologist
will examine the tissue from your cervix under a microscope to check for abnormal cells. Cervical dysplasia can range from very mild to very serious. The most serious form, with severely abnormal cells in the cervix, often leads to cervical cancer. back to top
What happens after the colposcopy and biopsies?
Colposcopy is not painful. It's just like having a pelvic exam
. During the biopsy, you may feel a bit of pinching, like tweezing a hair from your skin, when a tiny piece of tissue is taken from the cervix. The discomfort stops when the biopsies are finished, although some girls have mild cramps for a few hours afterwards.
You may have some bleeding from your cervix
after the biopsies, so you should wear a thin sanitary pad
after the procedure. Sometimes, your health professional will put some medication on the cervix to stop the bleeding. This medication turns brown and causes brownish vaginal discharge
for a few days.
You shouldn't put anything in your vagina
while your cervix is healing. That means no tampons, douching, or intercourse for two weeks. back to top
Will I need treatment for cervical dysplasia?
It depends. If you have mild cervical dysplasia, you may be asked to get Pap smears more often. The abnormal cells will be checked regularly to make sure they aren't getting worse. If you have moderate or severe dysplasia, you definitely need to be treated.
The abnormal cells on your cervix can disappear, or they can go on to more severe dysplasia, or even cervical cancer. It's hard to tell which cells will get better and which will lead to severe disease. In general, the more severe abnormalities are the ones that are more likely to get worse. back to top
What is the treatment for cervical dysplasia?
To treat cervical dysplasia, your health professional must destroy the abnormal areas on the surface of the cervix. The cells can be destroyed in several ways, including:
What happens after the treatment?
- Cryotherapy. Using this procedure, the abnormal cells from your cervix are frozen off with a cold probe. Cryotherapy is done right in your health professional's office.
- Laser therapy. In this method, the abnormal cervical cells are burnt off with a laser. This procedure is more complicated and may be more uncomfortable. It can be done in the office or in a hospital.
- Loop electrode excision (LEEP). This is a small loop that cuts and burns at the same time. Your health professional will use LEEP to cut off the abnormal cells of the cervix. The portion that is removed is sent to the pathologist for examination. This procedure is done in an office.
- Cone biopsy. In this surgical procedure, a cone-shaped piece of the cervix is removed. A cone biopsy is only done in severe or unusual cases. A cone biopsy must be done in a hospital or surgical center. back to top
Whatever treatment is used, the surface of your cervix grows back without the abnormal tissue. You must have follow-up tests to make sure all is growing normally. Usually, you get a Pap smear every 3 months for a year, then every 6 months, and eventually every year. back to top