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How long does it take for severe dysplasia to turn into cervical cancer?

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Updated July 01, 2014

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Question: How long does it take for severe dysplasia to turn into cervical cancer?
My Pap smear results revealed that I have high grade cervical dysplasia. My doctor says it's severe and requires immediate LEEP treatment, but I do not have health insurance. How long before severe cervical dysplasia turns into cervical cancer? Can I hold off on treatment?
Answer: Generally, it can take months to years before cervical dysplasia progresses into cervical cancer. No one can accurately predict how long it could take -- it all depends on your immune system and other variables. For people who have a compromised immune system, it would take less time. For healthier individuals, it may take longer, but sometimes it can progress quickly. Again, every case is unique and unpredictable. This is why your doctor most likely wants to proceed with treatment right away.

A Quick Lesson About Cervical Dysplasia

Cervical dysplasia is strongly associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus is extremely common and most women will be infected with it at some point in their lifetime. There is no cure for HPV, however, the virus often goes away on its own without causing harm. For some women, the virus causes normal cervical cells to change and become abnormal, or precancerous. Changes to the cervix are detected through routine Pap smears.

When left untreated, cervical dysplasia starts off as mild, then progresses into moderate dysplasia, and finally into severe dysplasia before developing into cervical cancer. The good news is that dysplasia can be effectively treated before progressing into cancer. This is why it is vital for women to have regular Pap smears. Not only is the test screening for cervical cancer, it is looking for evidence of dysplasia, or precancerous cells. For some women with dysplasia, treatment is the best way to prevent cervical cancer.

Can You Delay Having a LEEP?

Communicating to your doctor that you do not have health insurance and may not be able to immediately have a LEEP is your best course of action. As the progression of cervical dysplasia into cervical cancer is unpredictable, there is no way to give accurate advice as to whether you can wait to have treatment. I can tell you that having a LEEP procedure is much less expensive and less invasive than treatment for cervical cancer.

Your doctor may be willing to set up a financial arrangement with you so you can receive treatment immediately. If not, visit your local Planned Parenthood or county health department to see if you may qualify for aid. Through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention Program, many women are able to receive treatment, even for precancerous conditions. It is a federally funded program that is available in all states. You may also qualify to receive low- or no-cost follow-up exams after the LEEP procedure through the program. Find program information for your state.

Planned Parenthood may also be able to help you receive care, either in-office or through referral to private physician. The organization specializes in low- or no-cost reproductive health care for women. Find a Planned Parenthood location in your city or town.

After a LEEP Procedure

The importance of follow-up exams after having a LEEP cannot be stressed enough. Your doctor will want to follow up about two weeks after the procedure or earlier, if you are having complications. He or she will also recommend having more frequent cervical exams, which may be every few months to once a year to ensure the dysplasia has not returned. Unfortunately, a LEEP is not curative; dysplasia can return following treatment.
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  4. Types of Cancer A-M
  5. Cervical Cancer
  6. When Does Cervical Dysplasia Become Cervical Cancer?

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