Cervical dysplasia is the abnormal appearance of cells on the surface of the cervix when they are looked at underneath a microscope. Although this is not cancer, it is considered a precancerous condition.
Dysplasia that is seen on a Pap smear is described using the term squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL). These changes may be graded as:
- Low-grade (LSIL)
- High-grade (HSIL)
- Possibly cancerous (malignant)
Dysplasia that is seen on a biopsy of the cervix uses the term cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), and is grouped into three categories:
- CIN I -- mild dysplasia
- CIN II -- moderate to marked dysplasia
- CIN III -- severe dysplasia to carcinoma in situ
Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN); Precancerous changes of the cervix
Most cases of cervical dysplasia occur in women ages 25 - 35, although it can develop at any age.
Almost all cases of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer are caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual contact. There are many different types of HPV. Some types lead to cervical dysplasia or cancer.
The following may increase your risk of cervical dysplasia:
- Becoming sexually active before age 18
- Giving birth before age 16
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having other illnesses or using medications that suppress your immune system
There are usually no symptoms.
Exams and Tests
A pelvic examination is usually normal.
A Pap smear that shows abnormal cells or cervical dysplasia needs further testing.
- Colposcopy-directed biopsy is done to confirm the condition and determine its severity
- Cone biopsy
- Follow-up Pap smears may be done for mild abnormalities
An HPV DNA test can identify the high-risk types of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer. This may be done:
- As a screening test for women over age 30
- For women of any age who have a slightly abnormal Pap test result
It can take 10 years or longer for cervical dysplasia to develop into cancer.
Treatment depends on the degree of dysplasia.
- Mild dysplasia (LSIL or CIN I) may go away on its own. You may only need careful observation by your doctor with repeat Pap smears every 3 - 6 months. If it lasts for 2 years, treatment is usually recommended.
Treatment for moderate to severe dysplasia or mild dysplasia that does not go away may include:
- Laser vaporization to destroy the abnormal tissue
- LEEP procedure using electrocautery to remove abnormal areas
- Surgery to remove the abnormal tissue (cone biopsy)
Rarely, a hysterectomy may be recommended. Women with dysplasia need consistent follow-up, usually every 3 to 6 months or as recommended by their provider.
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment cure nearly all cases of cervical dysplasia.
Without treatment, 30 - 50% of cases of severe cervical dysplasia may lead to invasive cancer. The risk of cancer is lower for mild dysplasia.
The condition may return.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are age 21 or older and have never had a pelvic examination and Pap smear.
Ask your health care provider about the HPV vaccine. Girls who receive this vaccine before they become sexually active reduce their chance of getting cervical cancer by 70%.
To reduce the chance of developing cervical dysplasia:
- Don't smoke, as it increases your risk of developing more severe dysplasia and cancer if you do have an HPV infection
- Get vaccinated for HPV between ages 9 and 26
- Practice monogamy
- Use condoms during intercourse
- Wait until you are 18 or older before becoming sexually active
ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 99: management of abnormal cervical cytology and histology. Obstet Gynecol. 2008;112(6):1419-1444.
Wright TC Jr, Massad LS, Dunton CJ, et al. American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology-sponsored Consensus Conference: 2006 consensus guidelines for the management of women with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or adenocarcihnoma in situ. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2007;197(4):340-345.
Wright TC Jr, Massad LS, Dunton CJ, et al. American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology-sponsored Consensus Conference: 2006 consensus guidelines for the management of women with abnormal cervical cancer screening tests. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2007;197(4):346-355.
Kahn JA. HPV vaccination for the prevention of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. N Engl J Med. 2009;361:271-278.
Reviewed By: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, WA; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.