What is Koilocytosis?

Koilocytosis is a form of cellular change that can be observed in the epithelial cells that line the cervix with some types of medical conditions. While it is not itself malignant, it can be a warning sign of malignancy or another medical problem. If a smear test reveals koilocytosis upon laboratory examination, additional follow-up tests may be recommended to learn more about the source of the change and the patient may be advised to get rigorous screenings in the future in order to identify any malignant changes as early as possible. Patients with a history of abnormal smear tests who are changing doctors should make sure that their history is noted.
In koilocytosis, the nuclei of the cells become enlarged, growing two to three times larger than they should. The nuclei may also be very dark and stain readily, a trait known as hyperchromasia. In addition, the contours of the nuclei appear to be surrounded by halos or rings. Perinuclear halos, as they are known, are a signature calling card of koilocytosis. These cellular changes are visible upon staining and magnification in a lab setting.
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The most common reason for this change to occur is infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV can cause cellular changes in infected women, including changes that develop into malignancies. Koilocytosis is also present in cancerous and precancerous cells. Because it can be associated with cancer, when koilocytosis is identified, additional medical screening is needed to learn more about why the cells are changing.
A procedure known as a colposcopy can be used to take a larger biopsy sample while examining the area in question under very clear, bright illumination. This procedure offers care providers an opportunity to identify cellular changes and take samples from specific areas for follow-up. The biopsy sample will be tested in a lab for abnormalities and a report will be generated with more information for the clinician.
Some patients may have HPV for life and not experience any additional medical problems, even if abnormal cells do develop. Other patients may develop cervical cancer. Regular screening allows a doctor to identify the signs of malignancies as early as possible so that appropriate treatments and interventions can be provided. Patients who have an abnormal smear test result should not panic. There are many factors that can cause abnormal results and the usual recommended response is more testing to confirm that there are abnormalities and to learn more about the cellular changes that are occurring.

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