Learning About Anal Dysplasia

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What is anal dysplasia?

Anal dysplasia occurs when some of the cells in your anus or anal canal have changed. Dysplasia means that these cells look different from other cells. These abnormal cells aren't cancer. But they do need to be watched or treated. That's because sometimes the cells can turn into cancer cells.

What causes it?

Most anal dysplasia is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). You can get HPV by having sexual contact with someone who has it. But having HPV doesn't always lead to anal dysplasia. Other risk factors include high-risk sexual behaviors and having HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

What are the symptoms?

In most cases, there are no symptoms from anal dysplasia. But sometimes people do have symptoms. These include bleeding, discharge, and itching in the anal area.

How is it found?

Anal dysplasia is found through a screening called an "anal Pap smear." During this screening, a swab of the area is taken and then examined. You may also have a test called an anoscopy. It allows the doctor to look at the inner lining of your anus.

How is it treated?

If you aren't having any symptoms, you may not need treatment.

There are several ways to treat this condition. You may try:

  • Medicines. These include trichloroacetic acid, fluorouracil, and imiquimod.
  • Procedures that destroy abnormal cells. These include:
    • Infrared coagulation. This uses a high-heat infrared light.
    • Electrocautery. This uses low-voltage electricity.
    • Radiofrequency ablation. This uses radio waves.

Another approach to treatment is to examine the area every 6 months to look for changes. The doctor will remove cells if changes are seen.

After treatment, make sure to have regular screening tests with your doctor to look for any new abnormal cells.

How can you prevent it?

  • If you are age 26 or younger, you can get the series of human papillomavirus (HPV) shots. It protects against the types of HPV that can cause anal dysplasia. If you are age 27 to 45 and haven't been vaccinated for HPV, ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you.
  • Use latex condoms every time you have anal sex. Use them from the start to the end of sexual contact. This will help prevent HPV infection.
  • Limit your sex partners. Sex with one partner who has sex only with you can reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Tell any sex partners if you have HPV. Even if you don't have symptoms, you can still pass HPV to others.
  • Remember that people can spread HPV (and other STIs) even if they don't have symptoms. You and any sex partners may want to get tested for STIs before having sex.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.