Cevical dysplasia refers to the presence of abnormal cervical cells. Cervical dysplasia may indicate precancerous, or even cancerous, cells in the cervix. Typically, the extent of cervical abnormality is referred to as either low- or high-grade. Low-grade dysplasia is very slow growing and may revert back to normal without any medical intervention or treatment. High-grade dysplasia usually progresses more rapidly and may progress to cervical cancer if not treated.
Dysplasia is generally diagnosed by a pap smear. A pap smear can indicate the presence of cervical dysplasia even though there are no symptoms present. A pap smear is a medical test in which a sample of cervical cells are retrieved from the cervix for microscopic evaluation of abnormal cells. If the pap smear indicates cervical dysplasia, further medical testing, such as a biopsy or colposcopy—where the doctor uses a magnifying instrument to view the cervix—may be warranted.
Risk factors for cervical dysplasia may include smoking and genital warts. Occasionally, having multiple sexual partners and dietary deficiencies may contribute to risk factors. Smoking is considered a risk factor because the chemicals and toxins in cigarette smoke tend to accumulate in the cervix, potentially offering a hospitable environment for cellular changes. Quitting smoking can decrease the risk of contracting cervical dysplasia and ultimately cervical cancer.
Although medications are not usually effective in treating cervical dysplasia, there are other effective treatments that can alleviate this condition. Laser therapy, which destroys abnormal tissue in the cervix, is an effective treatment for dysplasia. Loop electrosurgical excision, where a wire removes areas of abnormal tissue, is also an effective treatment. This procedure requires a local anesthetic and may be performed in an outpatient setting.
Another procedure called cryocauterization is one of the most widely-used methods for eliminating cervical dysplasia. Cryocauterization utilizes cold therapy to destroy dysplastic cervical tissue. This procedure is typically done without the use of anesthesia and is very simple and safe.
Since most incidences of cervical dysplasia are slow to progress, cervical cancer is typically a preventable disease. When abnormal cervical cells and cervical changes can be effectively treated while still in the precancerous stages, cervical cancer can usually be prevented. In addition to regular pap smears, eating healthy and avoiding smoking are important components in reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
Just as regular pap smears are important in detecting cervical abnormalities, regular pelvic examinations are equally as important. A pelvic examination allows the physician to palpate cervical and uterine structures for abnormalities which may indicate cervical abnormalities. Frequency of regular pap smears and pelvic examinations generally are based upon the patient's past medical and social history and current general state of health.