Atypical glandular cells are cells found in a mucousal region, primarily the cervix, which are behaving abnormally. They may be growing at a faster pace than normal or they may have a strange appearance that is not typical of normally functioning cells. This is generally a more severe indication of cancer than squamous cell abnormalities and these cells should be looked into carefully to ensure that they are not malignant.
Many times, atypical glandular cells are found in the cervix. They are often caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) and can indicate cervical cancer or pre-cancer. Most often they are found through a pap smear, which is an exam in which a doctor takes samples of cervical tissue for testing. If atypical cells are found, a biopsy may be performed to determine if they are cancerous.
Not all atypical glandular cells indicate cancer. Sometimes they are considered pre-cancerous, which simply means that they are abnormal and may turn into cancer at a later time. At other times they may be caused by the virus and cause complications aside from cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is generally slow growing, but the type caused by atypical glandular cells is often more aggressive than cancers that form on the outer cells. Women are strongly encouraged to get a pap smear once every year starting at around age 18, or when they become sexually active. Every three years is recommended after at least three consecutive normal exams.
There are vaccinations to help prevent HPV infection, since this virus causes the majority of atypical glandular cells which lead to cervical cancer. Practicing safe sex is also recommended since HPV is sexually transmitted. This can help women avoid cervical cancer in many cases.
Treatment for atypical glandular cells will depend on how abnormal they are and whether or not they are found to be cancerous. Non-cancerous cells may be treated with the “wait and see” approach with more frequent testing to ensure that they do not become cancerous over time. Cancer may be treated by freezing off the cancerous tissue, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment, depending on how severe it is and whether it has spread.
Cervical cancer is highly treatable when found early. The cure rate is extremely high since this type of malignancy generally spreads very slowly. When not treated in its early stages, it may spread to the uterus. For this reason, testing is very important.