About This Condition
Sexually active teenagers and women 20 to 65 years old are advised to have periodic Pap smears, where a small amount of tissue is swabbed from the cervix and examined for evidence of precancerous or cancerous changes. A pap smear is considered abnormal when abnormal cervical cells are found. Cervical dysplasia is a term used to describe abnormal cervical cells taken during the pap smear. Cervical dysplasia is usually graded according to its severity, which can range from mild inflammation to precancerous changes to localized cancer.
If an abnormality is detected early, the doctor can prescribe effective treatment before the problem becomes more serious. Cervical cancer is a common, sometimes fatal disease. It is now known that human papilloma virus (HPV), also the cause of genital warts, is the major cause of cervical dysplasia.
There are no symptoms of cervical dysplasia until the disease has progressed into advanced cancer. Therefore, it is crucial that sexually active women, or women over age 20, have yearly Pap smears until the age of 65. Women who experience bleeding between menstrual periods, bleeding after intercourse, abnormal vaginal discharge, abdominal pain or swelling, urinary symptoms, or pelvic pain should be evaluated by a healthcare provider, even if it is not the regular time for a Pap test.
If the Pap smear is normal, no further tests are necessary until the next yearly Pap test. If the cells collected on the Pap smear are abnormal, a repeat test and a pelvic exam where the doctor looks at the cervix with a special magnifying lens (colposcope) may be recommended. Sometimes a small piece of tissue is removed from the cervix (biopsy) and examined under a microscope to see if there are any precancerous changes or cancer present. If these additional tests find an early stage of cervical cancer, it is either treated by removing the affected portion of the cervix (cone biopsy) or by removing the entire cervix and uterus (abdominal hysterectomy).