Any of your normal cells may become cancer cells. 

Before cancer cells form in your body’s tissues, they go through abnormal changes called hyperplasia and dysplasia. 

In hyperplasia, there is an increase in the number of cells in an organ or tissue that appear normal under a microscope. In dysplasia, the cells look abnormal under a microscope but are not cancer

Hyperplasia and dysplasia may or may not become cancer.

What are dysplasia and metaplasia?

What is dysplasia? 

Dysplasia is a term used to describe the presence of abnormal cells within your tissue or one of your organs. 

When you have dysplasia, it usually means there is an increase in abnormal cell growth. Dysplasia is not cancer, but it may sometimes become cancer.

Dysplasia can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how abnormal your cells look under a microscope and how much of your tissue or organ is affected. At this stage it can often still be reversed. 

Developmental dysplasia is common in children. It can affect many parts of the body, including the skeleton.

These types of dysplasia, which refer to cell growth, are not the same as hip dysplasia, which has a similar name. That refers not to cell growth but to a misalignment of your thigh bone and hip socket which can lead to pain in your hip. Most people who have hip dysplasia are born with it, and it is not related to precancerous cell growth.

What is metaplasia?

Metaplasia is the conversion of one type of cell to another. It is when cells change into a form that does not normally occur in your tissue where it is found. 

Metaplasia usually occurs when a cell’s normal environment changes for some reason. It can include conversions between tissue-specific stem cells.

The most common type of metaplasia is intestinal metaplasia. Here, the cells of your stomach are replaced with cells that are similar to those in your intestines.

Symptoms of dysplasia and metaplasia 

Dysplasia symptoms

Dysplasia can occur in any area of your body. It can also accompany other disorders. There are hundreds of different types of dysplasia. 

Your symptoms may depend on which type of dysplasia you have. These include:

  • Cervical dysplasia: You may never experience any symptoms of this. You may detect cervical dysplasia with a pap smear.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS): You might never show any symptoms of this. Your doctor may use your blood samples for frequent lab tests. These tests may show you have low levels of red blood cells, platelets, or white blood cells.
  • Ectodermal dysplasia: This can affect your hair, teeth, nails, skin, and even sweat glands. You may have brittle hair, abnormal teeth, scaly skin, and discolored toenails.

Metaplasia symptoms

For intestinal metaplasia, you may never experience any symptoms. 

However, you may have acid reflux issues. You may also experience these symptoms that relate to an Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection:



 

Causes of dysplasia and metaplasia 

Dysplasia causes

The most common causes of dysplasia include:

  • Severe human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: If you have a severe case of untreated HPV, it is likely to lead to cervical dysplasia 
  • Smoking: Since smoking weakens your immune system, you are more likely to get infections. 

Other cause factors include taking medication that suppresses your immune system, organ transplants, and certain viruses

Metaplasia causes

The typical causes of metaplasia are:

  • H. pylori infection: H. pylori bacteria may turn some of the food you eat into chemicals. The chemicals that these bacteria produce may then cause your stomach cells to change. This produces intestinal metaplasia.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking may cause your cells to change.
  • Genetics: If you have a close relative with a history of metaplasia, you are more likely to have it.
  • Environmental conditions

 

Diagnosis for dysplasia or metaplasia

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose dysplasia or metaplasia.

Dysplasia diagnosis

For certain types of dysplasia, your doctor may take your medical history, do a physical examination, and take a sample of cells to look at under a microscope before making a diagnosis.

Dysplasia cannot be detected by just doing a physical examination. Your doctor may order some tests to determine if you have dysplasia and which type it is. 

The following tests may be conducted if you are a female that may have cervical dysplasia:

  • Repeat Pap smear tests: This test may help in detecting cervical dysplasia.
  • Colposcopy: This is a magnified exam of the cervix to detect abnormal cells.
  • Endocervical curettage: This test checks for any abnormal cells in your cervical canal.
  • HPV DNA test: Using this test, your doctor may identify the HPV strain that you have.

Metaplasia diagnosis

Your doctor may conduct the following tests to determine a diagnosis of intestinal metaplasia:

  • Endoscopy: Here, your doctor inserts a thin long tube into your body. It has a camera at the end which will allow your doctor to check out your gastric lining. 
  • Biopsy: After viewing your gastric lining your doctor may remove a piece of a lesion for tests in the lab.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/16/2021
References
SOURCES:

Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology: "An overview of prevention and early detection of cervical cancers."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Cervical Dysplasia."

Mount Sinai: "Cervical dysplasia."

National Cancer Institute: "metaplasia."

Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers: "What is Cancer? The Basics."

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY ORTHOPEDICS: "Hip Dysplasia (Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip-DDH, Congenital Dysplasia of the Hip-CDH)."

World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Beyond the stomach: An updated view of Helicobacter pylori pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment."