What is Vaginal Dysplasia?
Dysplasia is defined as abnormal changes that are occurring in cells. When a person has dysplasia, cells divide very quickly and form tissue that is irregular and abnormal. The abnormal and irregular structure of the cells can potentially transition into cancer. Although dysplasia is an early stage of development for all cancers, not all dysplasia becomes cancer. Since dysplasia is very unpredictable and there is no way of knowing whether it will become cancerous, when dysplasia is discovered, it is closely monitored and treated, and is often surgically removed. That is why it is so important for women to be sure they are receiving routine medical examinations especially PAP smears and pelvic exams, as these vehicles are key to early detection and prevention of cancer and other serious issues. Women may experience irregular menstruation and discomfort, itching, and discharge, all of which can be symptomatic of vaginal or cervical dysplasia.
One Thing Leads to Another
One of the best-known associations of dysplasia is the HPV (human papillomavirus) infection link to vaginal dysplasia. HPV is a virus that causes an infection which manifests in genital warts or lesions and usually affects women below the age of 25 years, especially those with multiple sexual partners or weakened immune systems. It is transmitted through sexual contact and vaginal dysplasia associated with HPV can result in the formation of pre-cancerous lesions. Without proper treatment, these lesions become cancerous. Dysplasia in the vagina or on the cervix is not painful but is often accompanied by itching.
It Can Look Worse than it Is
Sometimes a condition that is causing a great deal of discomfort and pain ends up being something that can be treated very effectively and quickly - once the cause is known. For example, a woman may literally wake up one morning to find a lump on the side of her vagina. It grows, becomes painful to the touch and feels warmer than the surrounding skin. Without a proper examination by a doctor, it could be a source of fear. However, often this condition is an infection of the Bartholin gland. If the duct of the gland becomes blocked due to an infection, the infection travels down to the gland and an abscess forms. The gland swells and becomes painful. It may spontaneously drain or it may need to be lanced and drained by a physician.
Itching and vaginal discharge are associated with a number of female health issues and in order to best determine cause and treatment, a visit to the gynecologist is advised. Sometimes the culprit is a yeast infection and at other times it may be due to an allergic reaction. There are numerous causes for vaginal or vulvar itching. Bacterial or yeast infections are usually accompanied by a discharge and odor. Itching can be caused by:
· atrophic vaginitis (low estrogen)
· contact vulvitis (allergy to topical substances like powders and creams)
· dysplasia (precancerous cells)
When vaginal itching is persistent and does not respond to topical therapies, then a biopsy is recommended to rule out cancer. If the skin on the affected area is either red or white, a biopsy will likely be done - again to rule out cancer. Chronic vulvar itching can indicate a malignancy so a proper examination and testing is critical.
Bacterial Vaginosis is Not an STD
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition that produces a vaginal discharge and is caused by the overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina. When the bacteria in the vagina become unbalanced, then a discharge that has a foul odor can ensue. It is not a dangerous situation but the symptoms are distressing. It is important to have it checked to ensure the infection is not caused by an STD. BV is not an STD but can be present at the same time as an STD.
Many women use feminine powders, sprays and vaginal creams to prevent odor and wetness during menses (especially when the weather is warmer). Any of these can cause itching which is associated with an allergic response to the cream or spray. This allergic reaction is called contact vulvitis. Cessation of the creams or powders usually brings relief from the itching.
The articles in this section are devoted to answering your questions and providing information on vaginal conditions and issues that women often contend with. Read more about vaginal dysplasia, the causes and what you can do about it here.