What Is HPV?
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States
- If left untreated, high-risk HPV infection can cause precancerous cells
- Two of these high-risk viruses (HPV 16/18) are responsible for 70% of HPV-related cancers
How does HPV infection cause precancerous cells of the cervix?
- High-risk HPV infects cells on the surface of the cervix
- Often the body fights the high-risk HPV infection and causes it to go away, but when it does not, the infection can cause the cells to grow abnormally
- If the body’s immune system does not fight these changes, the abnormal growth can lead to precancerous cells, which are referred to as HSIL
- Precancerous cells can progress to cancer over time
What are some medical terms for precancerous cells of the cervix?
The following are medical terms that doctors or nurses may use when diagnosing precancerous cells of the cervix:
High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions, or HSIL, is a medical term that describes the abnormal changes in cells on the surface on the cervix.
- “High grade” means that these changes are serious because they may turn into cervical cancer if not treated
- HSIL is identified by a Pap test (Pap smear) and/or cervical biopsy
Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) is another medical term that describes the abnormal changes in cells on the surface of the cervix.
- CIN is graded on a scale of 1 to 3, based on how abnormal the cells look under a microscope and how much of the cervical tissue is affected
- CIN 1 is not considered to be precancerous, and represents a response to HPV infection that usually goes away on its own without treatment. CIN 1 can be defined as “mild”
- CIN 2 and CIN 3 are considered to be precancerous, and may progress to cancer if they go untreated. CIN 2 can be defined as “moderate” and CIN 3 can be defined as “severe.” CIN 2 and/or CIN 3 might also be referred to as cervical dysplasia
- CIN is identified by a cervical biopsy
Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about HPV and the risks of cervical cancer.