Cervical dysplasia is a pathology diagnosis that describes pre-cancerous cells on the cervix. Cervical dysplasia IS NOT the same as cervical cancer. However, because cervical dysplasia may progress over time into more severe forms of dysplasia, or rarely, into cervical cancer, it must be taken seriously and followed closely as recommended by your provider. Detecting and treating cervical dysplasia early is essential for preventing cervical cancer.
Cervical dysplasia is almost always caused the HPV (human papillomavirus), which is a sexually transmitted virus. Risk factors for cervical dysplasia include: early age of 1st intercourse, multiple sexual partners, a partner who has had multiple sexual partners, illnesses or medications that suppress the immune system, and smoking. The GARDASIL vaccine helps protect against the nine most common strains of the HPV virus and is available to young women and men ages 9-45.
Pap smears screen for cervical cancer and cervical dysplasia, but a small tissue biopsy is required for definitive diagnosis. Colposcopy is an in-office procedure usually used to evaluate the cervix for dysplasia, or pre-cancerous cells, after an abnormal pap smear. If any abnormal changes are seen on the cervix during colposcopy, a small biopsy (smaller than a grain of rice!) is taken and sent to the pathologist for review.
Cervical dysplasia may be classified as mild, moderate or severe. Most cases of mild cervical dysplasia resolve spontaneously and do not require treatment, just close follow-up with more frequent pap smears, usually every 6 months for at least a year. Because moderate and severe dysplasia have a much higher risk of progressing into cervical cancer over time, these types of dysplasia are usually treated with an excisional procedure to remove the abnormal, pre-cancerous cells. The most common form of excisional procedure is a loop electrosurgical excision procedure, known as a LEEP, but in some cases a more extensive cold knife conization (CKC) surgery is required. Alternative treatments include cryosurgery to freeze abnormal cervical cells and laser ablation to burn them.