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Cervical dysplasia is the presence of pre-cancer cells on the cervix of a woman. If this goes untreated, it will develop into cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is second on the list of reproductive tract cancers that strike women.

The test used to detect cervical cancer and dysplasia is the Pap smear. A physician uses a swab to collect cells from a woman's cervix during a routine gynecological exam. This life-saving procedure is painless.

Women of any age can get cervical dysplasia or cancer, but usually pre-menopausal women in their thirties and forties are the most at risk. Of course, there are many women in their twenties and even teens who are affected.

There really are no recognizable symptoms of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. This is why a yearly pelvic exam and pap test is so important in diagnosing this disease.

The women at most risk for cervical dysplasia are women who have been exposed to an STD (sexually transmitted diseases). In 80% of women afflicted by cervical dysplasia, they are also infected with the HPV (human papilloma virus) or genital warts.

Other risk factors are related to when and how many partners the woman has had. Woman who first became sexually active prior to age eighteen are at a higher risk. Another risk factor is multiple sex partners. Women who smoke are at a higher risk. Women who have a weakened immune system are also at increased risk of this disease. At the present time, there is no evidence of cervical dysplasia or cancer being hereditary.

To prevent cervical dysplasia, any woman who has not yet gone through menopause should have an annual pelvic exam and Pap smear. Remember, even women as young as their teens and twenties are susceptible to cervical dysplasia.

What happens if my Pap smear is positive?

If the test comes back positive, the woman has one of several stages of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. Stage 1 is extremely mild, and many times a doctor does not even opt for a biopsy. Possibly a woman will come in more often than yearly for her next exam.

In stages 2-4, the doctor usually will do a biopsy. Many times the physician will do a conization or cone biopsy. The patient will be given a local anesthetic. They will then have small sections taken from the cervix. The doctor will then send these to a lab for a biopsy by a pathologist.

In severe cases of dysplasia, the biopsy may be much more invasive. There are many different biopsy techniques available. In stage 4 and above, the dysplasia many times has progressed to cervical cancer. There are still many treatment options, depending on the severity of the cancer.

If the biopsy shows pre-cancerous cells, the doctor may perform a LEEP (electrical current that burns the cells), cryotherapy (freezes the cells), or laser surgery to remove the abnormal cells.

Afterward, the woman will have a pelvic exam and pap every three months to monitor her condition. After a year or two of negative pap smears, she may only have to have an exam BI-annually or annually at the doctor's discretion. The cure rate for cervical dysplasia is in excess of 95%.

Treatment for mild to moderate cervical cancer varies. In many cases a hysterectomy is performed. In more serve cases, a hysterectomy as well as radiation may be ordered by the doctor.

Remember, the best defense against cervical dysplasia is safe sex, a monogamous relationship, and regular pelvic exams.