I had a Pap smear recently, and my doctor said the results showed cervical dysplasia. What does that mean? Is it cancer?

Answers from Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, M.D.

No. Cervical dysplasia isn't cancer. The term indicates that abnormal cells were found on the surface of the cervix.

Cervical dysplasia can range from mild to severe, depending on the appearance of the abnormal cells. Dysplasia could go away on its own or, rarely, it could develop into cancer. Another term for cervical dysplasia is cervical intraepithelial neoplasia.

Tests to determine the severity of cervical dysplasia

After an abnormality is detected on a Pap smear, your doctor may recommend more tests, including:

  • A human papillomavirus (HPV) test
  • Colposcopy.

Colposcopy is an examination of your cervix, vagina and vulva using a magnifying instrument. During a colposcopy, your doctor may determine where the abnormal cells are growing and the degree of abnormality. A sample of cells (biopsy) may be taken for testing.

Treatment and follow-up for cervical dysplasia

Often, with mild dysplasia, no treatment is needed. In most cases, mild dysplasia resolves on its own and doesn't become cancerous. Your doctor may recommend follow-up in a year to check for additional changes.

If you have severe dysplasia, your doctor may recommend treatment, such as surgery or other procedures to remove the abnormal cells.

Whether you have mild or severe dysplasia, it's likely your doctor will recommend Pap and HPV testing in a year to monitor your condition and check for recurrences of dysplasia. If you have a negative Pap smear and HPV test at that appointment, your doctor may recommend resuming Pap smears and HPV testing every three years.


Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, M.D.

July 17, 2014