Synonyms: Dysplastic cells

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine, Oncology

Clinical Definition

Dysplasia is the abnormal development or changes in cellular tissue which may be due to discrepancies in size, shape and organization of adult cells. A potential early indication of a neoplastic process, dysplasia is sometimes classified as either high or low grade, depending on the severity of cellular changes. 

In Our Own Words

When a pathologist examines cells microscopically, dysplasia refers to cells that don’t look normal. Dysplasia can have different medical meanings, depending on the context. For example, hip dysplasia and fibrous dysplasia refer to abnormal cell development, but not cancer or pre-cancerous conditions. Cells that are dysplastic often lack the invasive and metastatic qualities of cancer, and yet, some types of dysplastic cells are just a few steps away from becoming cancerous. Dysplasia can be classified as high grade or low grade during cancer screening, and the severity (higher grade) may correlate with likelihood of cancer, as well as decisions regarding practical next steps after a biopsy.

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Squamous cell dysplasia
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  • Ramzi S. Cotran, Vinay Kumar. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. Sanders 2009. Accessed July 2013.
  • University of Washington Office of Pathology. “Definition and Characteristics of Dysplasia in Barrett’s Esophagus.” http://www.pathology.washington.edu. Accessed July 2013.
  • John Hopkins Pathology. Dysplasia. http://pathology2.jhu.edu. Accessed July 2013.
  • American Cancer Society. “Understanding Your Pathology Report” Lung Cancer in Situ. http://www.cancer.org. Accessed July 2013.
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