What is cervical dysplasia?

However, cervical cancer is rare, while cervical dysplasia is not.

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that leads into the vagina. It’s the cervix that dilates during childbirth to allow the fetus to pass through.

In cervical dysplasia, the abnormal cells aren’t cancerous. However, if left without monitoring or if left untreated in certain cases that need treatment, it can develop into precancers or cancer.

The prevalence is decreasing with the use of the HPV vaccine. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), one type of HPV is estimated to have declined by over 60 percent in girls ages 14 to 19 and by 34 percent in women ages 20 to 24.

Cervical dysplasia cell changes infographicShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

A common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical dysplasia. It is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States.

Other independent risk factors, such as radiation exposure, smoking, and vaginal inflammation, may also contribute to the development of cervical dysplasia.

There are hundreds of strains of HPV. Some are low risk and cause genital warts.

There are several known “high risk“ strains of HPV that have been associated with cervical dysplasia that can lead to cervical cancer in the future. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by HPV in women, and most sexually active people will get the virus at some point in their lifetime.

HPV infection typically clears between 8 months to 2 years after exposure. Long lasting infection can lead to cervical dysplasia. Over the course of several years, cervical cancer may develop.

There are several risk factors for cervical dysplasia, some of which relate directly to the risk of HPV. Risk factors include:

  • having an illness that suppresses the immune system
  • being on immunosuppressant drugs
  • having a high lifetime number of sexual partners
  • having a partner with multiple sexual partners
  • becoming sexually active at a younger age
  • having an HPV exposure at a younger age
  • smoking cigarettes

If you’re sexually active, a condom or other barrier method might reduce your risk of getting HPV. But the virus can still live and be passed on the skin surrounding the genitals not covered by the condom.

If you have cervical dysplasia, you may not experience any symptoms at all.

However, some people with cervical dysplasia that has progressed to cervical cancer may notice symptoms including:

  • bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
  • persistent vaginal discharge
  • vaginal irritation

Because there are often no outward symptoms of cervical dysplasia, it’s important to get regular screenings for cervical cancer and dysplasia. This is part of a routine Pap smear. These tests are able to find cell changes that are invisible to the naked eye.

If you have cervical dysplasia, your Pap test results may be abnormal. There are many different results you can get on a pap smear.

Some of the most common results include:

Many times, LSIL goes away on its own. Your doctor might recommend a follow-up Pap test after several months or years to monitor the cell changes. Depending on your age and the results of your Pap test, your doctor may recommend a colposcopy.

A colposcopy is an in-office procedure that allows the doctor to get a very close view of your cervix. A vinegar solution is applied to the cervix and a special light is used. This makes any abnormal cells stand out.

The doctor can then take a small piece of cervical tissue, called a biopsy, to send to a lab for further testing. If a biopsy shows dysplasia, it’s then classified as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).

There are three categories of CIN:

  • CIN 1, mild dysplasia
  • CIN 2, moderate dysplasia
  • CIN 3, severe dysplasia

Treatment of cervical dysplasia depends on the severity of the condition. Mild dysplasia might not be treated immediately, since it can resolve without treatment.

For CIN 2 or 3, treatment can include:

Dysplasia is usually caught early because of regular Pap tests. Treatment typically cures cervical dysplasia, but it can return. If no treatment is given, the dysplasia may get worse, potentially turning into cancer.

While abstinence is the only definite way to prevent cervical dysplasia, you can do a number of things to reduce your risk of getting HPV and cervical dysplasia:

  • Talk with a doctor about getting the HPV vaccine.
  • Practice safe sex. Use a condom or other barrier method when having sex.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes.

Talk with your doctor about your sexual activity and what steps you can take to lower your risk of cervical dysplasia.

You can prevent cervical dysplasia from becoming cervical cancer by getting regular cervical cancer screenings from a gynecologist.

Cervical dysplasia is a treatable condition in which abnormal cells grow on the cervix. It is caused by some strains of HPV as well as by other factors. It can sometimes cause cervical cancer if left unmonitored and untreated.

As cervical dysplasia typically has no symptoms, the best way to diagnose and treat this condition before cancer can develop is by getting regular Pap smears.

You can reduce your risk of developing this condition by getting the HPV vaccine and using condoms or other barrier methods each time you engage in sexual activity.