Overview of Cervical Dysplasia

Cervical dysplasia is a term used to describe the appearance of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix, the lowest part of the uterus. These changes in cervical tissue are classified as mild, moderate or severe. While dysplasia itself does not cause health problems, it is considered to be a precancerous condition. Left untreated, dysplasia sometimes progresses to an early form of cancer known as cervical carcinoma in situ, and eventually to invasive cervical cancer.

It can take 10 years or longer for cervical dysplasia to develop into cancer. Dysplasia can be detected from a Pap smear, the single most important step that a woman can take to prevent cervical cancer.

Mild dysplasia is the most common form, and up to 70 percent of these cases regress on their own (i.e., the cervical tissue returns to normal without treatment). Moderate and severe dysplasia are less likely to self-resolve and have a higher rate of progression to cancer. The greater the abnormality, the higher the risk for developing cervical cancer.

Cervical dysplasia does not cause symptoms; therefore, regular screening and early diagnosis are important. Detecting and treating dysplasia early is essential to prevent cancer. For this reason, most physicians quickly remove suspicious cervical lesions and require frequent Pap smears to monitor for recurrences.

Incidence and Prevalence of Cervical Dysplasia

Every year, between 250,000 and 1 million women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical dysplasia. While it can occur at any age, the peak incidence is in women between the ages of 25 to 35. Most dysplasia cases can be cured with proper treatment and follow-up. Without treatment, 30 to 50 percent may progress to invasive cancer.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 30 Sep 2001

Last Modified: 02 Jan 2013