At the time of your colposcopy, your medical provider will take a biopsy of any areas of your cervix that do not look normal. Those biopsies are examined by a pathology doctor to see if they contain any precancer or cancer cells. Sometimes the biopsy results can be totally normal or they can show mild abnormalities (called “CIN1”) and you will just need a pap smear in a few months or a year. Other times, the biopsy results can show very serious abnormalities (“CIN2” “CIN3” “carcinoma in situ” or cancer) and you will need to undergo other procedures to remove the abnormal tissue.
When precancer is found on your colposcopy, you may hear the terms CIN1, CIN2, CIN3. “CIN” stands for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, and the number describes how abnormal the tissue looks under the microscope. CIN is not cancer but if untreated can develop into cancer.
The other term you may hear is dysplasia. This means there are abnormal cells that were found in the tissues sent for your biopsy. CIN-1 is low grade dysplasia. CIN-2 and CIN-3 are high grade dysplasia. The higher the grade the higher the risk of developing into cancer.
If your biopsy shows CIN1 (low grade dysplasia), you likely will only need a follow up pap smear in another 6 to 12 months.
If your biopsy shows CIN2 or CIN3 (high grade dysplasia), you will need treatment of this abnormal tissue to stop it from turning into cancer. Sometimes this can be a procedure to remove abnormal tissue as occurs with a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP), Cold Knife Cone (CKC), or cryotherapy.
One final abnormality that can be found on colposcopy is “carcinoma in situ.” This is a very serious type of pre-cancer that can quickly turn into cancer. Because of this, doctors recommend that the entire uterus and cervix be removed if this is found.
If your medical provider finds cancer on your colposcopy then you will be referred to a cancer specialist. The treatment will depend on how far the cancer has spread. Most of the time the recommended treatment is removal of the uterus and cervix. For some patients, if the cancer is very small and they want to have a baby in the future, just the cervix can be removed. For other patients, treatments include radiation and chemotherapy.
The Bottom Line
Luckily, early detection leads to prevention and early treatment of cervical cancer. Since screening for cervical cancer started in the United States, deaths have gone down by half. This is why it is so important to follow-up right away if you have an abnormal result.
Follow-up right away to keep cancer at bay!