The term “dysplasia” refers to abnormal cell changes of the cervix. Mild dysplasia is the least severe stage and means that a woman’s cervical cells are slightly abnormal. Other terms for mild dysplasia include low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, Grade 1. If left untreated, mild dysplasia can progress to more severe stages and even to cervical cancer during the course of 10 years or more.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) almost always is the cause of cervical dysplasia. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that usually is passed through vaginal or anal sex. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts, and other types can lead to cervical dysplasia.
A woman does not experience any symptoms with mild dysplasia. Symptoms typically do not develop until dysplasia has progressed and become cancerous, which is why it is crucial for women to have regular Papanicolau tests. Pap tests, as they commonly are called, can detect cervical dysplasia and allow for early intervention when necessary.
In the majority of cases, mild dysplasia goes away on its own, and a woman might not need any treatment. After it is detected, a doctor can determine severity and decide if treatment is necessary. Often, a doctor will schedule a woman for more frequent Pap tests to watch for additional cell changes. Some women with mild dysplasia undergo a colposcopy, which is a medical procedure that allows the doctor to examine cervical cells more closely. A doctor might take a tissue sample for biopsy during this procedure.
If dysplasia progresses, there are several treatment options. A doctor might use a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) to remove abnormal tissue. With cryosurgery or cryocauterization, the doctor uses a cryoprobe to freeze and kill abnormal cells. Another option is laser ablation, which is when a doctor uses a laser to kill the abnormal cervical cells.
Women who were sexually active before the age of 18, have had multiple sexual partners or gave birth before the age of 16 have a greater risk of developing cervical dysplasia. Women with suppressed immune systems and those who smoke also are more likely to have it. A woman can reduce her risk by practicing monogamy and using condoms during sexual intercourse, which will help lower the risk of contracting HPV. Women between the ages of 9 and 26 also can get vaccinated against some types of HPV.
The prognosis for women with mild dysplasia is excellent. Many cases resolve on their own, and the cases that persist can be treated early before they progress to cervical cancer. Women should have routine Pap tests for successful detection and prevention.