Dysplasia refers to the abnormal growth or development of cells within tissues or organs. It’s a term used in pathology to describe cells that look abnormal under a microscope but are not cancerous. These abnormal cells can be a sign of early changes that could lead to cancer, but dysplasia itself is not cancer. It indicates a disorderly but non-cancerous cell growth, where the cells have not yet invaded nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body.

What causes dysplasia?

Dysplasia is caused by changes in the genes of cells, which can be triggered by various factors including chronic inflammation, prolonged hormone stimulation, infection with a virus such as human papillomavirus (HPV), or exposure to harmful substances such as tobacco smoke or ultraviolet light. These genetic changes affect how cells grow, divide, and organize themselves, leading to the abnormal appearance of cells.

Dysplasia and grade

Pathologists use different systems for dividing dysplasia into categories called grades. The most common system uses two grades – low grade and high grade. In some parts of the body, dysplasia is divided into three grades – mild, moderate, and severe. Low grade or mild dysplasia means the cells are only slightly abnormal, while high grade or moderate to severe dysplasia indicates that the cells are very abnormal and more closely resemble cancer cells.

The grade of dysplasia is important because it helps doctors assess how serious the condition is and decide on the best treatment plan. The grading reflects how much the cells have changed from their normal, healthy state. Here’s why the grade matters:

  1. Risk of progressing to cancer: The higher the grade of dysplasia, the greater the risk that these abnormal cells could eventually transform into cancer. High grade or severe dysplasia is closer to cancer on a cellular level and is sometimes considered a precancerous condition, meaning it has a higher likelihood of turning into cancer if left untreated.
  2. Treatment decisions: The grade of dysplasia can influence the type of treatment a doctor recommends. Low grade or mild dysplasia might only require regular monitoring to see if it progresses, while high grade or severe dysplasia may need more aggressive treatment, such as surgery or other interventions, to remove the abnormal cells and reduce the risk of cancer.
  3. Monitoring and follow-up: Knowing the grade of dysplasia helps in planning how closely a person needs to be monitored. For instance, a person with low grade or mild dysplasia may need less frequent follow-up tests compared to someone with high grade or severe dysplasia, who might need more regular checks to ensure the condition doesn’t worsen.

About this article

Doctors wrote this article to help you read and understand your pathology report. Contact us with any questions about this article or your pathology report. Read this article for a more general introduction to the parts of a typical pathology report.

Other helpful resources

Atlas of Pathology
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