During the medical exam known as a colposcopy, liquid is applied to the cervix, or neck of the womb, to help spot any abnormal cells when viewed through the colposcope, and a small tissue sample, or biopsy, is taken. The doctor may inform a patient straight away about any abnormal cells which are found, but, if not, colposcopy results which are received later should always be discussed with a medical professional. Results typically describe abnormal cell changes, which may vary from mild to severe dyskaryosis, and how much of the thickness of the cervical skin is affected by these cell changes. CIN 1 refers to a third of the thickness being affected, while CIN 3 means that the full thickness of the skin of the cervix contains abnormal cells, but this is not the same thing as having cervical cancer. While CIN 1 may be monitored, CIN 2 and 3 will require treatment to remove the abnormal cells.
Most often, colposcopy results show mild dyskaryosis and CIN 1. CIN, or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, is a diagnostic term used to describe abnormal cells in the cervix which are not cancer, but which have the potential to develop into cancer in the future. Treatment is not always required for CIN 1 because it is possible for the cells to return to normal by themselves, and in the majority of cases this is what happens. Following a diagnosis of CIN 1, the patient is still monitored with regular colposcopy appointments because the condition can sometimes progress to CIN 2 or 3.
When colposcopy results show moderate or severe dyskaryosis, and CIN 2 or CIN 3, the cells are unlikely to return to normal and treatment becomes necessary. This is to prevent the possibility of cervical cancer developing, which could occur if the abnormal cells were left untreated for a number of years. The results do not mean that cervical cancer is already present, and a doctor should be happy to explain this and to outline possible treatments to the patient.
There are several treatment options following colposcopy results which show CIN 2 or CIN 3. The preferred treatment may vary according to the doctor or clinic and the extent to which the cervix is involved by the abnormal cell changes. Laser treatment may be used to destroy areas containing abnormal cells, or cells may be frozen using cryotherapy, or burnt away using what is known as a cold coagulation technique. Large loop excision of the transformation zone, or LLETZ, involves the use of a wire loop through which an electric current is passed. This may be used, under a local anesthetic, to cut out parts of the cervix where there are abnormal cells.