Sometimes, it can be difficult to make sense of the words you’re hearing when you’re speaking to a doctor, especially when it comes to your health. How can you be expected to know the difference between specific medical terms? Terms like metaplasia vs. anaplasia often come up when speaking to a doctor about the risks of cancer. What are the differences between them? What is metaplasia vs. anaplasia? Below, we’re going to walk you through these terms so that you can better understand them.
What is Metaplasia vs. Anaplasia?
There is no easy way to describe the difference between metaplasia vs. anaplasia, as both of them are considered to be abnormal cell growths. However, they can refer to very different things. Metaplasia, for example, is your body’s reaction to stressors applying abnormal conditions to the body. As a result, your cells begin to change in order to accommodate their new reality. Anaplasia, on the other hand, refers to your cells losing their specialization and are instead beginning to change into something that your body can’t use.
What is Metaplasia?
Metaplasia specifically refers to the replacement of mature, differentiated cells by a different, mature cell type that doesn’t naturally occur in the tissue it’s found in. But what does that actually mean? When you have stressors on your body, such as smoking and drinking excessively, or prolonged periods of acid reflux, your body will naturally take into consideration that these factors are foreign to the area in which they’re being encountered and swap your cells out.
The following stressors can cause your body to develop metaplasia: :
- Chronic acid reflux
- Helicobacter pylori
- Chronic Endometritis
- Alcohol consumption
- High Sodium Intakes
- HPV Infection
- Viral Infection
But what does it mean for a cell to develop metaplasia? Say you have excessive acid reflex (long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)). Your esophagus is not designed to handle the backflow of stomach acid, and as a result begins to suffer damage. But your intestines are lined with cells that are designed to handle the stomach acid without issue, so your esophagus begins to develop tissue simliar to your intestines, a condition known as Barret’s esophagus.
On its own, metaplasia is not harmful to your body, and is not cancerous. However, extended periods of metaplasia in the body can result in the cells becoming dysplastic, or irregularly shaped and sized. Dysplatic cells can lead to cancer, which is why metaplasia is typically treated by removing the stressor (cutting out alcohol, salt, the virus causing it as some examples) or by treating the underlying condition.
What is Anaplasia?
So what is the difference between metaplasia and anaplasia? The biggest difference between metaplasia vs. anaplasia is that metaplasia is typically reversible while anaplasia is most often seen inside of cells that have already gone cancerous. Anaplasia is used to describe cells that have lost most of the unique characteristics that make them up, and instead, have become a distorted stem-cell like form. These cells no longer follow the normal rules that your cells typically follow.
Cells with anaplasia don’t stop growing when they reach a neighboring cell. As a result, they become larger than normal. When enough cells have developed anaplasia, they begin to develop what are known as tumors. These cells no longer communicate with the cells surrounding them, and the tumors begin to spread through the blood stream. This is why sometimes a cancer that started in one part of the body may result in cancer developing in other parts of the body at the same time.
Cells with anaplasia will often divide in ways that are strange, and can often cause cancer cells to be difficult to treat, or can be the difference between a benign and a malignant version of cancer. leiomyosarcoma, for example, is a malignant smooth muscle tumor. The only difference between it and leiomyoma (which is a benign smooth muscle tumor), is that the cells that form leiomyosarcoma have undergone anaplasia.
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