Most women are familiar with the benefits of looking after their physical health and wellbeing. By eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a good level of fitness, we can all help to ward off dangerous illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. But relatively few women are informed about the importance of monitoring themselves for cervical dysplasia. Cervical dysplasia is a condition that occurs in thousands of women every year, and, if left untreated, can lead to life threatening cervical cancer.
What is Cervical Dysplasia?
Cervical dysplasia is the name given to the appearance of abnormal cells on the lining of the cervix. Your cervix acts as an opening between your vagina and uterus and has a lining made up of hundreds of tiny little cells. Sometimes these cells can change shape and size though, resulting in cervical dysplasia. If left untreated, these abnormal cells can multiply throughout your cervix, leading to cervical cancer.
Types of Cervical Dysplasia
Cervical dysplasia is ranked according to its severity. Depending upon how much of the cervical lining is abnormal, you will be diagnosed with one of the following types of cervical dysplasia:
- Mild Cervical Dysplasia (CIN I): Mild cervical dysplasia occurs when there are only a few abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix.
- Moderate Cervical Dysplasia (CIN II): Moderate cervical dysplasia is diagnosed when half of the thickness of the cervical lining is comprised of abnormal cells.
- Severe Cervical Dysplasia (CIN III): Severe cervical dysplasia is also known as carcinoma-in-situ. In this type of dysplasia, the entire surface of the cervix is abnormal. This type of dysplasia needs to be treated or it will progress to cervical cancer.
- Invasive Cervical Cancer: Invasive cervical cancer is the most severe form of cervical dysplasia, in which cells on the surface and throughout the cervix have become abnormal.
What Causes Cervical Dysplasia?
Researchers are still unsure what causes cervical dysplasia to develop. However, a number of factors appear to contribute to the development of the disease.
- HPV Virus: The human papilloma virus, the illness that causes genital warts may play a part in causing cervical dysplasia. Between 80% and 90% of all women with cervical dysplasia also have HPV. There are over 70 different strains of the HPV virus, one-third of which are sexually transmittable.
- Immune Dysfunction: Problems with the immune system may also contribute to the development of cervical dysplasia. Women with HIV and other immune-compromising illnesses often develop cervical dyplasia.
Who's at Risk for Cervical Dysplasia?
Cervical dysplasia affects between 250,000 and one million women throughout the United States every year. Though women of any age can develop cervical dysplasia, the illness occurs more frequently in those between the ages of 25 and 35. Other factors can also increase your risk for cervical dysplasia, including:
- cigarette smoking
- having multiple sexual partners
- having the HPV infection
- using the birth control pill for more than five years
- exposure to the chemical diethylstilbestrol (DES)
Symptoms of Cervical Dysplasia
Unfortunately, cervical dysplasia is rarely accompanied by any physical symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are likely to be associated with active HPV infection.
Diagnosing Cervical Dysplasia
Cervical dysplasia is generally diagnosed using one of the following techniques:
- PAP Smear: Pap smears work to remove a small sample of the cells surrounding the cervix. Using a small brush, your health care provider will remove some of these cells, and then send them off to a laboratory for diagnosis. Microscopic analysis can reveal any abnormal cells.
- Colposcopy: If your Pap smear uncovers abnormal cells, you will likely also undergo a colposcopy to determine the extent of your abnormal cells. A colposcopy takes only a few minutes to perform. A vinegar solution is applied to your cervix while a special microscope, called a colposcope, is used to examine the area. The colposcope is designed to highlight abnormal cells.
- Cervical Biopsy: A small biopsy of your cervical tissue may also be taken to determine the extent of your cervical dysplasia.
Cervical Dysplasia Treatment
There are a variety of different treatments that can be used to help women suffering from cervical dysplasia. Depending upon the severity of your illness and your personal needs, you may find certain treatments more suitable.
- Electrocauterization: Electrocauterization uses low-voltage radio frequencies to destroy abnormal cells. A wire loop attached to a low-voltage frequency is used to cut away portions of the cervix that are abnormal.
- Cryosurgery: Cryosurgery makes use of a carbon-dioxide probe, which freezes and kills any abnormal cells.
- Laser Vaporization: Laser vaporization is performed in hospital under general anesthetic. It uses a laser to remove any abnormal cervical cells.
- Cone Biopsy: Cone biopsies are also performed in hospital. This surgical procedure involves removing a cone-shaped section of the cervix. This is generally only used for severe cervical dysplasia, and may threaten fertility.
Preventing Cervical Dysplasia
Cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer are highly preventable diseases. By taking the proper precautions, you can help to ensure that any signs of cervical dysplasia will be caught early, preventing serious illness. Here are some tips on preventing cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer:
Get Regular Pap Smears: Pap smears are recommended for all women over the age of 18, or for any woman who is sexually active. Regular pap smears can help to detect any signs of cervical dysplasia early.