Women Today Are Better Armed To Fight, Treat Cervical Dysplasia

Increased awareness, preventative testing for human papillomavirus remain top priority

DAYTON, Ohio (February 3, 2013) – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Off Site Icon, this year more than 10,000 American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer – a form of cancer that can be caught early or even avoided if certain preventable steps are taken.

Annual pap smears check women for cervical dysplasia – an abnormality or pre-cancer of the cervix. In most cases, cervical dysplasia will never evolve into cervical cancer and if it does, it can take up to decade to happen. Nearly all cases of cervical dysplasia are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted virus that often is only found through an annual pap smear. 

“Cervical dysplasia is on a continuum,” said Jeremy Crouch, MD, who practices at Women’s Health Specialists and Midwives of Dayton. “There’s grade one, two and three and cancer would be the grade after that. About 90 percent of cervical dysplasia will resolve with a woman’s own immune system.”

Cervical dysplasia and most HPV strains do not present symptoms. As physicians become better educated about cervical dysplasia and HPV, in particular, they are able to distinguish between women who are at risk for cervical cancer and those who are not. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.

“The guidelines for screenings continue to be refined as we learn more about the role HPV plays in the progression of cervical dysplasia,” said Dr. Crouch, a Premier Health Specialists physician. 

In October 2012, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Off Site Icon, issued new guidelines that said most women should be screened for cervical cancer no more often than once every three to five years. In addition to extending the interval between pap test, co-testing with the HPV test was recommended – but only for women age 30 years and older and once every five years.

“It used to be that everyone got a pap every year but now in younger women we don’t until they are 21 years of age because the risk is so low of any problems and the chance of a woman’s immune system clearing it up is so high. We now can do a pap every three years between 21 and 30 years of age because the progression of cervical cancer is so slow. After the age of 30, we begin testing every woman for HPV with their annual pap. If that is negative, then we can push their annual screenings out every five years. This helps us to refine the women who are really at risk.”

Research continues to help physicians to know how to better distinguish at-risk patients for cervical dysplasia as well as educate women on how to reduce their risk of getting HPV or what steps to take once she is diagnosed with it. 

“First and foremost, for young women there is the Gardasil vaccine that protects against four strains of the virus, in particular two that are associated with cervical cancer,” Dr. Crouch said. “That is the primary and No. 1 thing that women can do to reduce their risk of getting the virus.”

Beyond that, women should make their annual exams and pap smears a top priority. This annual test reveals any cervical dysplasia – which if detected can be carefully watched or treated while it is in its earliest stage. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is extremely important since the majority of HPV is resolved through a woman’s immune system.

“Another thing that is really important is smoking cessation,” Dr. Crouch said. “Smoking doubles a woman’s risk of the progression of cervical dysplasia. It doesn’t seem like they would be associated at all, but the nicotine consumed through smoking can concentrate in the cervical mucus, exacerbating or increasing a woman’s risk of cervical dysplasia progressing.”

To learn more about cervical dysplasia or to find a Premier Health Specialist physician go to www.premierhealthspecialists.org.

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