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About cervical cell changes

Your colposcopy results may show cell changes (abnormal cells) on your cervix. Types of cell changes include CIN and CGIN. 

On this page, we talk through the differences between different types of cell changes, and try to explain some of the words you might read or hear. We hope it helps you feel more reassured, but if you need some extra support, our support services may be able to help.

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On this page:

What are cell changes?

Cervical cell changes happen when cells don’t behave in an expected way.

Your results letter or healthcare professional might use the terms abnormal cells or cervical abnormalities. This is just another way of saying cell changes. 

At Jo’s, we usually use the term cell changes rather than abnormal cells or cervical abnormalities. This is because the people we speak to, who have had cell changes, have told us that they prefer this term.  

Finding out you have cell changes may be worrying, especially if you haven’t heard of CIN or CGIN before. Try to remember that cell changes are not cervical cancer and having them does not mean you will develop cervical cancer. Most cell changes will get better by themselves or with treatment. 

CIN

CIN stands for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. CIN is named after the parts of the cervix it affects, which are the squamous cells on the outer surface. It is the most common type of cell changes.

It is important to know that CIN is not cervical cancer. CIN may be monitored or treated, depending on the grade and your personal situation.

Read about monitoring or treatment >

How is CIN graded?

CIN is graded from 1 to 3. The number shows how deep the cell changes go into the outer surface of the cervix. Sometimes, the terms low grade or high grade are also used. 

CIN1 (low grade) 

Cell changes are one-third deep into the outer surface of the cervix.

CIN1 is usually monitored, instead of being treated. This is because, in most cases, CIN1 will naturally regress to ‘normal’ cells.

CIN2 (high grade)

Cell changes are two-thirds deep into the outer surface of the cervix.

CIN2 can be either monitored or treated. Your colposcopist will make a recommendation based on your personal situation and preference.

CIN3 (high grade) 

Cell changes are the full depth of the outer surface of the cervix. 

CIN3 is usually treated. This is because it is the highest grade of CIN-type cell changes.

Read more about monitoring and treating CIN >

CGIN

CGIN stands for cervical glandular intraepithelial neoplasia. CGIN is named after the parts of the cervix it affects, which are the glandular cells inside the cervical canal. 

It is important to know that CGIN is not cervical cancer. You will usually be offered treatment for CGIN. This is because glandular cells are inside the cervical canal, which means that they cannot be seen or monitored as easily.

Read about monitoring or treatment >

How is CGIN graded?

CGIN is usually described as:

  • low grade
  • high grade.

If you have any grade of CGIN, you will be offered treatment. 

SMILE

CIN is the most common type of cell changes, with CGIN being the second most common. But there are other types of cell changes you can have, including SMILE.

SMILE stands for stratified mucin-producing intraepithelial lesion. It is thought of and treated in a similar way to CGIN. However, it is much rarer.

If you have questions about SMILE, or any other type of cell changes, it is best to speak with your colposcopy team.

Will cell changes develop into cervical cancer?

With the right management, the risk of cell changes developing into cervical cancer is low. Most cell changes do not develop into cervical cancer.

Because most cases of CIN3 and CGIN are treated, we don’t have much data on how likely they are to progress into cervical cancer or regress back to ‘normal’ cells. The numbers given in the table below are estimates and based on the best studies we currently have (see references for more details).

Type and grade of cell change Regress Stay the same Progress
CIN1 60% 30% 10% (to CIN2 or CIN3)
CIN2 50 to 60% 32% 18% (to CIN3)
CIN3 32 to 47% (data not available) 32% to 40%

 

The likelihood of progression or regression depends on your personal situation, including factors like:

  • age
  • grade of CIN
  • whether or not you smoke
  • whether you have a condition that affects your immune system (for example, HIV).

Cervical cell changes FAQs

Sometimes people use the words ‘precancerous cells’ when talking about cervical cell changes. This does not mean these cell changes will definitely develop into cervical cancer. It just means that the cells are abnormal, but are not cancer cells.

We don’t use the word ‘precancerous’ in our information. This is because people who have had cell changes have told us it can cause them extra worry and be misleading.

No. Dyskaryosis means ‘changes of the cells’, which are found by a cervical screening test. CIN, CGIN or SMILE describe the specific type and grade of any changes in the cells. This is a formal diagnosis that will help decide management of any changes. You would get these results after a colposcopy.

Cells are the building blocks of tissue. This means if your cells show a ‘low-grade dyskaryosis’, it is likely that your tissue will show low-grade changes too (such as CIN 1). Alternatively, if your cells show ‘severe or high-grade dyskaryosis’, it is likely that your tissue will show high-grade changes (such as CIN2 or CIN3). However, this is not always the case – sometimes cervical screening and colposcopy results are different. This is why a colposcopy is important, as it confirms what is really happening in your cervix.

If you talk to people outside of the UK, you may hear these words or phrases being used to describe cell changes:

  • Abnormal squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS or ASCU-H) – this usually means the same as borderline cell changes.
  • Low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSIL) – this usually means the same as low-grade dyskaryosis.
  • High-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL) – this usually means the same as high-grade dyskaryosis.

These results are usually those you would get after cervical screening, rather than colposcopy.

How we can help

The most important thing to remember is that CIN and CGIN are not cervical cancer, and that you will have a team of dedicated experts caring for you. But we know it can still feel scary to get a cell changes result. 

If you need some extra support, you can give our free Helpline a call on 0808 802 8000. Our trained volunteers can talk through the different pathways or simply listen to how you’re feeling.

Check the opening hours >

Sometimes connecting with others who have gone through a similar experience can be helpful. Our online Forum lets our community give and get support. You can read through the messages or post your own – whichever feels most comfortable.

Join our Forum >

If you have general questions about follow up after treatment for cell changes, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your colposcopy team for that.

Use our Ask the Expert service >

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

  • Lili, E et al (2018). Low recurrence rate of high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia after successful excision and routine colposcopy during follow-up. Medicine.
  • Katki, HA (2014).Five-year risk of recurrence following treatment of CIN2, CIN3, or AIS: performance of HPV and Pap cotesting in post-treatment management. Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease.
  • Tainio, K et al (2018). Clinical course of untreated cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 under active surveillance: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal.
  • Matsumoto, K et al (2010). Predicting the progression of cervical precursor lesions by human papillomavirus genotyping: A prospective cohort study. International Journal of Cancer..
  • Kim, JW et al (2012). Factors Affecting the Clearance of High-Risk Human Papillomavirus Infection and the Progression of Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia. Journal of International Medical Research.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

Questions?

If you have questions or concerns about cell changes (abnormal cells), get a confidential response from a medical professional.

Ask the Expert
Date last updated: 
14 Jan 2022
Date due for review: 
14 Jan 2025
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