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Patient Education: Diseases Conditions Treatments & Procedures

Cervical Dysplasia And HPV

Overview

The cervix is located at the entrance of the uterus.  The surface cells on the cervix are constantly growing.  If these cells begin to change, the Pap test may become abnormal.

If the cells become abnormal, it is called dysplasia.  Dysplasia can be low-grade or high-grade.  The dysplasia is caused by a virus called HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) which is passed from person to person by genital skin contact.  HPV is extremely common in sexually active men and women.  Intercourse is not necessary for transmission.  HPV may cause external genital warts or abnormal cells on the Pap test.  If dysplasia is not followed carefully and treated when necessary, it can progress in a small percentage of women to cervical cancer.

Condoms decrease transmission but cannot completely prevent transmission of HPV to future partners.  This is because HPV is present on surrounding genital skin that may not be covered by a condom.   Present partners have already been exposed and condoms will therefore not prevent recurrence with this present partner.  (Condoms will prevent transmission of other infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.)  Once you are infected with HPV, it may remain in you regardless of treatment.  It may express itself from time to time in the future as abnormal cells on the Pap test. Treatment cannot therefore be considered a cure.  Follow-up is very important to detect recurrence.

Male partners exposed to HPV may show penile or genital warts.  Most men actually do not show warts, but carry HPV on normal looking genital skin.  They can transmit it to a new partner.  This is one reason why HPV is so common in the population.  It is important to tell present partners that you both may have been exposed to HPV so they can advise future partners to have careful pap tests.

Quitting smoking may help you to reverse dysplasia to normal.  Taking supplements of folic acid (0.4-1.0 mg) and beta-carotene (10,000 IU) may also help.  Dysplasia does not seem to affect fertility and is not considered harmful to the baby during pregnancy.

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