Cervical pre-cancer, also known as cervical dysplasia or cervical intrapepithelial neoplasia, is an abnormal change in the surface of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (also known as the womb) that connects to the vagina. These changes are classified as low grade or high grade. Most cases of dysplasia can be cured with proper treatment and follow-up. If left untreated, cervical dysplasia can sometimes progress to cervical cancer.
Almost all cases of cervical pre-cancer are caused by high-risk types of the human papillomavirus (also known as HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The majority of women will have an HPV infection at some point in their lifetime. When a woman has an HPV infection, her body’s immune system will usually clear the infection on its own, before the virus can cause harm to the cells of the cervix. However, sometimes the infection remains for several months or years, and can potentially cause cervical dysplasia or pre-cancer, which can become cancer if they are not treated.
Between 250,000 and 1 million women are diagnosed with cervical dysplasia in the United States every year. Most cases of cervical dysplasia develop in women between the ages of 25 and 35, although it can occur at any age. Older women can still develop cervical cancer, even if they are no longer sexually active. It is very rare for cervical dysplasia to develop in women younger than age 21.