It’s hard not to panic when you receive an abnormal Pap smear result. Your gynecologist utters the term, cervical dysplasia, and it’s easy to ask, "Is it cancer?"
If you’ve experienced that situation, you’re not alone. Each year, between 250,000 and 1 million U.S. women are diagnosed with cervical dysplasia. While it can happen at any age, it typically occurs in women aged 25 to 35.
Cervical dysplasia simply means abnormal cells were found on the surface of the cervix. Although it is not cancer, it’s considered a precancerous condition.
The condition typically has no symptoms but occasionally signs include genital warts, abnormal bleeding, spotting after intercourse, vaginal discharge and lower back pain. Please note these symptoms are not exclusive to cervical dysplasia and may point something else.
Cervical dysplasia is usually discovered during an annual Pap smear and as such, regular screenings are important.
After an abnormality is detected on a Pap smear, your doctor may recommend other tests such as testing for human papillomavirus (HPV) and a colposcopy.
Cervical dysplasia can range from mild to severe, depending on the number of abnormal cells. Mild dysplasia is the most common form which means just a few cells are abnormal. Often, with mild dysplasia, no treatment is necessary. In most cases, it resolves on its own and doesn't become cancerous.
Moderate and severe dysplasia are less likely to revert to normal. With severe dysplasia, your doctor may recommend surgery or other procedures to remove the abnormal cells. Most dysplasia cases can be cured with proper treatment and follow up. Without treatment, 30 to 50 percent may progress to cancer.
Whether you have mild or severe dysplasia, your health care provider will recommend getting a Pap test every six months to monitor your condition and check for recurrences. After two consecutive normal Pap smears, you can most likely resume having an annual Pap smear. Women who’ve had cervical dysplasia run a lifetime risk for the condition to reoccur.