Cervical dysplasia: Pay attention to a positive Pap test

Cervical dysplasia: Pay attention to a positive Pap test

A phone call from your doctor about your Pap test can be worrisome. But abnormal results rarely mean cancer. More likely, the abnormal cells on the surface of your cervix signal a condition called cervical dysplasia.

Doctors do not know all the causes of cervical dysplasia, which is most common in women ages 25 to 35. Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) are responsible for most cases of severe dysplasia. These same HPVs can also cause cervical cancer.

Why a Pap test is essential

Dysplasia usually has no symptoms. In fact, you may have an HPV infection that can potentially cause dysplasia for many years without knowing it. Usually your immune system fights off the virus, and the infection goes away.

But in some women, dysplasia progresses to cervical cancer, according to Kimberly Gecsi, MD, an OB/GYN at University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital. “That is why it is considered ‘precancerous,’ and why regular Pap tests to examine cervical cells are critical,” explains Dr. Gecsi.

Dysplasia can clear up on its own. If not, doctors may treat it by removing the abnormal tissue. “Women with dysplasia will likely need to have a colposcopy or repeat Pap test to monitor the condition,” says Dr. Gecsi.

How you can reduce your risk

Dr. Gecsi says women face a higher risk for dysplasia and cervical cancer if they:

  • Have sex before age 18 or with multiple partners
  • Smoke
  • Experience a persistent high-risk HPV infection
  • Do not get regular screenings
  • Take immune-suppressing medication or have an illness that suppresses the immune system

Using condoms, remaining smoke-free and limiting sexual partners can help women avoid cervical dysplasia. Women ages 26 and younger can be vaccinated against certain types of HPV. Two vaccines – Gardasil and Cervarix – are available.

Dr. Gecsi points out that regular screening is also important. The United States Preventive Services Task Force suggests that most women ages 21 to 65 should have a Pap test once every three years. Women ages 30 to 65 can choose to instead have a Pap test once every five years along with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test. “Women older than 65 who have had normal screenings and do not have a high risk for cervical cancer do not need Pap tests,” advises Dr. Gecsi. “Speak with your doctor about the schedule that is best for you.”

Need help determining whether you are due for a Pap test?

Schedule an appointment with a UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital OB/GYN today. Visit UHhospitals.org/MacDonald and click “Request an Appointment” or call 1-866-UH4-CARE (1-866-844-2273).

Kimberly Gecsi

OB/GYN, University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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