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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.
Cigarette smoking increases the risk of cervical dysplasia,1, 2, 3 and increases the likelihood that mild forms of dysplasia will progress to more severe forms.4, 5 Quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke are essential for this and many other health reasons.
Certain sexual behaviors are consistently associated with cervical dysplasia, such as becoming sexually active at an early age and having multiple sexual partners.6, 7 Avoiding these behaviors may reduce the risk of cervical dysplasia. For those who are sexually active, using barrier methods of contraception, such as a condom or diaphragm, is associated with reduced risk of cervical dysplasia.8, 9, 10
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2016.