Dysplasia refers to the abnormal development of cells within tissues or organs. It can lead to various conditions that involve enlarged tissue, such as hip dysplasia. It can also lead to the formation of precancerous cells.

Dysplasia can occur in any area of the body and can vary in degree of severity. There are hundreds of different types of dysplasia, and it can accompany other disorders.

Dysplasia is an increase in abnormal cell growth or development. This is a precancerous state, and it is more serious than hyperplasia, which is just an overgrowth of normal-appearing cells. Precancerous dysplasia in adults may not develop into cancer.

Dysplasia does not always become cancer, but it might. Depending on the type of dysplasia, the risk of developing cancer varies.

Developmental dysplasia is common in children and can affect many parts of the body, including the skeleton. Each type of dysplasia has different risk factors. It is not possible to prevent all types of dysplasia. However, avoiding some risk factors may help in some cases.

This article outlines some of the most common forms of dysplasia in adults and children.

There are many types of dysplasia that affect both children and adults. The most common types are:

Developmental dysplasia

Dysplasia in children usually affects the child’s development. It can be present even before the child is born. Early diagnosis can lead to quick treatment in many cases.

Developmental dysplasia is caused by abnormal development and does not lead to cancer.

The types of developmental dysplasia include:

Hip dysplasia

Some children have a condition called hip dysplasia, or developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).

This can mean that:

  • the hip joint is in the wrong shape
  • the hip socket is not in the correct place to cover and support the leg bone

The result is more wear and tear on every part of the hip joint.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the child may have:

  • legs of different lengths
  • an unusual way of walking
  • less flexibility on one side

People who receive a diagnosis of hip dysplasia as adults most likely have had the condition since childhood.

The International Hip Dysplasia Institute estimates that about 35,000 hip replacements occur each year due to hip dysplasia.

Treatment may include the use of a harness or surgery. Newborns and infants up to 6 months of age may need to wear a soft harness for up to 3 months to keep the hip in place. This is successful in most cases.

However, if this does not work, a doctor may recommend a brace, which is made of firmer material.

Sometimes, the doctor will need to gently reposition the child’s thighbone before applying a body cast. Infants ages 6 months to 2 years old may also require a cast after repositioning the thighbone. Occasionally, a child will need open surgery to put the bone back in the socket.

Skeletal dysplasia

Skeletal dysplasia is responsible for many disorders, including:

There are more than 450 disorders of the skeleton classed as dysplasia. They result from a genetic mutation. Diagnosis usually happens before birth or in infancy.

Ectodermal dysplasia

Ectodermal dysplasias affect the:

  • skin
  • hair
  • nails
  • sweat glands

According to the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasias (NFED), there are more than 100 types of ectodermal dysplasia.

Some types may be visible at birth, but it may take years to get a correct diagnosis for other types.

Ectodermal dysplasias are hereditary. Parents can pass the genetic changes on to their children.

Abnormal growth dysplasia

In adults, dysplasia usually refers to the abnormal growth of cells or tissues that is a precursor to cancer.

Dysplasia does not always lead to cancer. However, it can be a step on the way to cancerous cell growth. When the cells continue to grow, they can create malignant (cancerous) tumors.

Dysplasia can affect any number of tissues in the body, but some forms are more common than others. They include:

Cervical dysplasia

Cervical dysplasia refers to abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix.

There are two types:

  • Low grade cervical dysplasia: This type progresses slowly and often gets better on its own.
  • High grade cervical dysplasia: This type can lead to cervical cancer.

Myelodysplastic syndromes

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a type of dysplasia affecting the bone marrow. In some cases, it can lead to leukemia.

This abnormal growth can mean that the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells for normal bodily functions.

Researchers do not fully understand what causes dysplasia. Some of the possible factors that may contribute to the development of dysplasia include:

  • infections
  • smoking
  • exposure to carcinogenic toxins

Some types, such as ectodermal dysplasia, stem from mutations in the DNA of a developing fetus. What causes these mutations is also unclear.

Each type of dysplasia can also have different possible causes and associated risks. The types and their potential causes and risk factors include:

  • Hip dysplasia: According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, hip dysplasia is up to 12 times more likely when there is a family history of it. Hip dysplasia has also been linked to being female, the improper swaddling of infants, or the baby being in the breech position. Genetic factors may make a person more susceptible, but it may be environmental factors that lead to symptoms in those people.
  • Cervical dysplasia: Cervical dysplasia can lead to cervical cancer. Scientists are trying to understand what causes it. One common link seems to be the presence of a type of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is not the same type of HPV as the one that causes genital warts. People with a weakened immune system may have a higher risk of cervical dysplasia. Smoking also may increase the risk of dysplasia developing into cervical cancer.
  • MDS: People who receive radiation or chemotherapy have a higher risk of developing MDS. MDS can affect younger people, but it usually occurs in older adults, particularly those in their 70s or 80s.

Dysplasia can affect many areas of the body, and symptoms depend on the type of dysplasia.

Identifying symptoms correctly can mean a faster diagnosis and a better chance of effective treatment. The main symptoms for each common kind of dysplasia include:

  • Cervical dysplasia: There are usually no symptoms. Genital warts are a symptom of exposure to HPV, but this is a different type of HPV than the one that is linked to dysplasia. Cervical dysplasia may show up during a Pap smear. This does not mean a person has cancer, but cancer could develop in the future.
  • Hip dysplasia: The most common sign of hip dysplasia is hip pain. There may also be a snapping noise in the hip or aching pain in the groin that lasts for months.
  • MDS: There may be no symptoms, but a routine blood test may show a low red cell count, platelet count, or white blood cell count.
  • Ectodermal dysplasia: The different types of ectodermal dysplasia affect the hair, teeth, nails, skin, and sweat glands in different ways. Symptoms can include brittle hair, abnormal teeth, discolored toenails, and dry, scaly skin.
  • Skeletal dysplasia: In dwarfism caused by dysplasia, a person may have short stature or slow growth, an unusually large head, short limbs, joint stiffness, curved bones, and crowded teeth. Other types affect the body in different ways.

Diagnosis and treatment will depend on the type of dysplasia. Most treatments focus on reducing the symptoms, and some are specific to the type of dysplasia.

Common treatments include:

Skeletal dysplasia

A person with this condition may have the following treatment options:

  • growth hormones
  • braces to improve tooth crowding
  • back braces to improve spine curvature
  • surgery

Ectodermal dysplasia

Options include:

  • practicing regular dental hygiene
  • using topical creams for skin symptoms
  • applying antibacterial scalp treatments
  • using saline sprays for a dry nose or eye drops for eyes

Cervical dysplasia

Common surgical treatments include:

  • laser surgery to destroy abnormal cervical tissue
  • cryocauterization, which uses extremely cold temperatures to destroy abnormal cells
  • loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), in which a doctor uses a thin loop wire to scrape away visible abnormal cells in the cervix

The person should discuss how each option might affect their fertility and ways to resolve fertility problems if they hope to have biological children in the future. This could include freezing eggs.


A stem cell transplant is one of the main treatments for MDS, along with blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and other medications.

If a stem cell transplant is not an option, the person may have access to supportive methods such as blood transfusions and blood cell growth factors.

Dysplasia covers a range of conditions, some of which have genetic causes. There is no evidence to support lifestyle or other changes that might reduce the risk of dysplasia.

The following may reduce the chance of developing some avoidable types of dysplasia, such as MDS or cervical dysplasia:

However, dysplasia covers a range of conditions, and some can have genetic causes.

There is no evidence to support any lifestyle or other changes that might reduce the risk of dysplasia.

How concerning is an abnormal Pap smear?

Different types of abnormal cells can show up on a Pap smear. Some could progress to cancer, but others may not. Dysplasia as a result of certain types of HPV has a higher risk of progressing to cervical cancer. A person should see a gynecologist to find out exactly what kind of abnormal cells are in the test sample and what treatment may be necessary.

What are other types of dysplasia?

There are many types of dysplasia. Some additional types include:

What is the difference between metaplasia and dysplasia?

Metaplasia is another stage on the way to cells becoming cancerous. Unlike dysplasia, metaplasia is not an overgrowth of abnormal cells. Instead, it is a state in which certain existing cells transform into different types of cells. Metaplasia typically occurs before dysplasia.

Dysplasia is an overgrowth of abnormal cells. There are different types of dysplasia that can affect different body parts or systems. Depending on the type, they can affect both children and adults.

Some may cause symptoms, while others may not. Some may evolve into cancer. The treatment and risk of cancer both vary based on the type of dysplasia.