Cervical cancer, which was once the leading cause of death in women, is one of the most easily diagnosed cancers. And if caught early, it can be prevented. Regular appointments with a gynecologist to administer pap smears can pinpoint cellular changes that are indicative of possible precancerous cells, also known as cervical dysplasia.
There are two types of squamous intraepithelial lesions, or as it is more generally known, cervical dysplasia. There can either be low grade dysplasia or high grade dysplasia. Low grade dysplasia includes cells that are starting to become abnormal. High grade dysplasia are abnormal cells, but they have not yet invaded the surrounding cervical tissues.
Most precancerous cells found in the cervix are caused by Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. Many people contract HPV at some point in their lives, and there are at least 15 types of the virus that can cause precancerous cervical cells. There is no cure for all types of the HPV virus, but there is a vaccine available that protects against certain types of the virus that can cause cervical cancer.
If precancerous cervical cells are found, the doctor will most likely perform a colposcopy, which will be magnify the severity of the dysplasia and the doctor will be able to remove any abnormal cells. If there is a severe dysplasia, the patient will need to have another type of procedure to guarantee that all abnormalities are gone. The patient may need to have a biopsy, which can be done with a laser or wire-shaped cone that scrapes away the abnormal cells. After the biopsy, most women will need to come in for pap smears every few months initially to guarantee that there are no more cell changes. If the dysplasia is severe enough, the physician may opt for a total hysterectomy in order to make sure all precancerous cells are removed.
Certain risk factors have been associated with raising a woman’s risk for cervical dysplasia. A high number of sexual partners seem to up the chances because of contraction of HPV is more likely. Smoking also increases a woman’s chances of an abnormal pap smear. It is important to continue pap smears annually to make sure no abnormalities are present.
If caught early, cervical dysplasia will probably not turn into cervical cancer. However, some of the procedures performed, especially if the dysplasia is severe, can weaken the cervix, which can lead to miscarriage or not being able to carry the pregnancy to full term. Physicians will make a patient aware of this risk and, if the patient becomes pregnant later, certain actions will need to be taken to make sure the cervix is strong enough to carry the baby.