Cervical dysplasia is the term used to describe the abnormal growth of the epithelial tissue on the surface of the cervix. Dysplasia is also called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), which is graded from mild cellular abnormalities (CIN I) to serious pre-cancerous growth (CIN III), which can lead to invasive cervical cancer. Cervical dysplasia occurs in sexually active women, but is more common in those who had sexual intercourse before the age of 18 or those with multiple sex partners. Women with diets low in folic acid and those who smoke may be at a higher risk for cervical dysplasia.
Cervical dysplasia is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted and also causes genital warts. This virus produces papillomas, which are small, benign (noncancerous) growths on the cervix. HPV can be spread through any type of sexual contact, including oral sex. HPV can also be spread from a woman to her fetus if she becomes pregnant or gives birth while infected with this virus.
If any of the symptoms mentioned earlier are present, the physician will perform a physical including an abdominal, back, and pelvic examination. As part of the pelvic exam, a Pap smear will be performed to detect precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix. A Pap smear is also performed annually for screening purposes even when no symptoms are present. This test may be performed more or less often than once a year, depending on your individual medical history and risk factors for cervical cancer. For example, an individual who has had abnormal Pap smears in the past may require more tests than an individual who has always had normal Pap smears. But, if you have had normal pap smears 3 years in a row and you are over age 30, your doctor may perform a pap smear test only every 2 to 3 years. If there are any questionable or unclear results from the Pap smear, one of the following tests will be performed by a gynecologist: • Colposcopy – a procedure in which the physician uses a viewing tube with a magnifying lens to examine the abnormal cell growth in the cervix. • Biopsy – a small sample of tissue is removed from the cervix and examined under a microscope for any signs of cancer.
Mild cervical dysplasia usually requires no treatment and goes away on its own. Your doctor will want to perform follow-up Pap smears to monitor the condition and determine if you need further tests or treatment. Moderate dysplasia can be treated with a number of surgical procedures, including cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen), laser excision, or cauterization (burning), all of which destroy the abnormal tissues. Your doctor may recommend the loop electrosurgical excisional procedure (LEEP), which uses a thin wire loop with an electrical current running through it to remove the abnormal tissue. Severe dysplasia requires a cone biopsy, in which a cone-shaped piece of tissue is removed from the cervix. Cone biopsies are performed with a laser, a surgical knife, or LEEP. The tissue removed is examined under a microscope for signs of cancer.
While there is no established strategy for preventing cervical dysplasia, regular Pap smears are the most effective and reliable method of identifying the condition in its early stages. Such early detection is key to preventing the condition from progressing to cervical cancer. Women should begin receiving annual Pap smears as soon as they become sexually active or no later than age 21. Women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy are advised to begin regular Pap smears at age 14, at the onset of their first menstrual period, or as soon as they become sexually active, whichever comes first. Yearly gynecological exams and regular Pap smears are extremely important to your health. If you have been diagnosed with cervical dysplasia, you should have Pap smears more frequently to monitor this condition and increase your chances of early detection of cervical cancer. You can reduce your risk of cervical dysplasia by practicing safe sex with just one partner or abstaining from sex, not smoking, and including foods rich in folic acid, such as spinach, in your diet.