Cervical dysplasia is an abnormal cell growth on the lining of the cervix. Considered precancerous, cervical dysplasia, also referred to as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), is not cancer, it simply indicates the presence of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. More common in women under 30, CIN can occur at any age.
A colposcopy (use of an instrument and a special light to view the cervix after a vinegar solution has been applied to make abnormal cells clearly visible) is sometimes performed to detect cervical dysplasia, which can also be detected with a Pap smear. A biopsy of cervical tissue may also be done. An HPV DNA test can determine the specific infection that caused the cervical dysplasia.
Cervical dysplasia is often linked with human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that affects approximately 30 percent of women. The risk of developing cervical dysplasia increases for women who have sex before the age 18, those who have multiple sexual partners, and those who are on immunosuppressant drugs or have a weakened immune system. Smoking cigarettes and giving birth at any early age can also increase the risk of developing CIN.
There are usually no clear symptoms associated with cervical dysplasia.
Cervical dysplasia is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus with hundreds of strains. Some strains are high-risk and can cause cervical dysplasia and cancer. HPV infection that can lead to dysplasia most often affects sexually active women under age 20.
For some women, the infection doesn’t clear up but instead turns into cervical dysplasia. Two particular types, HPV 16 and HPV 18, have been linked to cervical cancer.
HPV typically transfers to a new host during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. However, it can also transfer via skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. The virus spreads through the body and sometimes reaches the cervix.
Smokers double their likelihood of getting severe cervical dysplasia, due to immune system suppressions associated with smoking. Cervical dysplasia is associated with immunosuppressive drugs for certain diseases or transplants, or infection with HIV.
Mild cases of cervical dysplasia normally go away without any treatment other than follow-up Pap tests for six to twelve months after the initial infection was detected. Mild to severe cases may be treated with cryosurgery (freezing), laser surgery, or electrocauterization, where electricity is used to remove abnormal tissue by heating it.
Cervical dysplasia, which can range from mild to severe, affects anywhere from 250,000 to a million women each year in the United States. Using protection during sex can help prevent the condition. Sexually active women are encouraged to have regular Pap tests during a pelvic exam to check for the presence of cervical dysplasia.
Women can help prevent cervical dysplasia by taking preventative measures. Pap smears can detect dysplasia so that your doctor can treat it and keep it from turning into cervical cancer.
It’s also important to avoid high-risk sex, preferably by remaining monogamous or limiting your partners. Consistently using condoms goes a long way to hinder transmission of the disease. Remember that condoms don’t offer full protection against dysplasia, however. While HPV may cause genital warts, it often remains asymptomatic and undetected.
Stopping smoking is also a good idea, to give your body its best chance to stave off the infection, and follow the National Cancer Institute’s advice to eat five servings of fresh vegetables and fruits daily. Nutrients such as folic acid, beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C can help prevent cervical dysplasia.
Cervical cancer vaccines, such as Gardasil or Cervarix, are approved for use in girls as young as 9 or 10 to prevent HPV strains that cause cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.