Q&A of the Week: What is Koilocytosis?

Kathy asks: What exactly is koilocytosis? It was on a lab report from my Pap test. My doctor says it means I have HPV, but I haven't been intimate with anyone but with my husband for several years. Naturally, we are both a bit upset and taken aback!!

Kathy - I swear that HPV is the most misunderstood virus to come along in a long time! I can't tell you how many similar messages I have gotten to yours. The bad news is that most people have (or have had) HPV. The good news is that it seldom causes problems. The bad news is that some types are more apt to cause bad problems, but the good news is that even then, it's not all that frequent. I guess it's not all that surprising that it's misunderstood, come to think of it. :-) And, yes, it really can be silently present for years and then suddenly "show itself". I wonder how many people have assumed their partners are cheating when signs of HPV appear, when this isn't at all necessarily the case.

Koilocytosis (also called koilocytotic atypia) is cell changes caused by HPV - it's really just a kind of calling card left by HPV. Under the microscope, the cells will have little halos around the nuclei, and a few other changes. These changes are not precancerous, nor are they dangerous in and of themselves. Koilocytosis often co-exists with dysplasia, and it's the dysplasia that needs watching and, if necessary, treatment.

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