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Dysplasia is characterized by an abnormal growth of the cells of a certain tissue, and may be indicative of cancer in some cases. The word dysplasia comes from the Greek, and roughly translated, means "bad formation." When a dysplasia forms in an area of tissue, it generally consists of an expanded area of immature cells, meaning that, among other things, that there are fewer mature and healthy cells to be found in the area. By definition, dysplasia stays in the tissue in which it originates, rather than spreading to other tissues or organs. Cells that form a dysplasia are undifferentiated, much like the cells of a cancerous tumor.
One of the most common contexts in which dysplasia presents is in the female cervix. The risk of a simple dysplasia changing into a carcinoma, meaning a cancerous growth, are low, and even when this does occur, it can take ten years or more. However, it is important that treatment be pursued quickly, and that any suspicious growths be removed. In most cases, the dysplasia will never come back, and would have about a 50/50 chance of going away on its own if left untreated. Of course, that is a risk that few doctors or patients would be willing to take.
Abnormal cervical cells are usually detected early as a result of a Pap smear. Early detection is very helpful in reducing the likelihood that a dysplasia will progress to become cancer. There are usually no symptoms at the beginning, further highlighting the importance of regular screenings to detect any potential problems. Millions of women every year develop cervical dysplasia, but the risk can be reduced by avoiding smoking and high-risk sexual behavior, as well as by consuming a nutritious diet which is supplemented with folic acid.
Other, less-common types of dysplasia also exist, including fibrous dysplasia. In this disorder, a fibrous, scar-like tissue develops in otherwise healthy bone tissue. Compared to healthy bone mass, it is soft, and weakens the bone as it expands. Bone deformation and brittleness can develop as this type of dysplasia progresses. Most cases of this disorder are seen in patients under the age of 15, and its cause is still unknown.
Diastrophic dysplasia is a rare, congenital disorder, also known as diastrophic dwarfism. This type of dysplasia is not strictly an abnormal growth of cells, but can include any or all of many different symptoms, including spina bifida, club feet, malformations in the tissues of the head and face, as well as abnormalities in bones and joints throughout the body. Many of the conditions that can occur as part of this disorder can lead to serious or life-threatening complications.