What To Do If Your Pap Smear Comes Back Abnormal? Cervical Dysplasia and HPV Explained
At some point in her life almost every woman will get the call saying her pap smear is abnormal or that she has the Human Papilloma Virus, HPV. Conventional medicine will recommend she get either a LEEP procedure where the abnormal cervical cells are burned off or cryotherpy where the cells are frozen. Both of these procedures have risks and side effects and can complicate pregnancy. The most common long term effect of a LEEP procedure is an increase risk for preterm birth. The good news is that there are options for managing an abnormal pap smear and the human papilloma virus.
Some women believe they are not at risk for HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cell changes and cervical cancer, because they had the HPV vaccine. This simply isnt true. The HPV vaccine only includes two strains of the HPV that are linked to cervical disease, type 16 and 18. There are many other strains of HPV linked to cervical disease such as; 31,33,35,39,45,51,52,56,58,59. It is now possible to test for exactly which strain a woman has. This testing is called genotype testing for the specific strain of HPV that is present and is critical for treatment.
Cervical Dysplasia and HPV
A pap smear that comes back as abnormal will have cells that are changing, called dysplasia. An abnormality can be mild or severe. If your pap comes back abnormal you may need to have a colposcopy to determine what is really happening with the cells of the cervix. A colposcopy will allow for a biopsy to be taken which gives a better diagnosis of the cells. This step is necessary to determine if the abnormality is on the outside of the cervix or inside the endocervical canal. If you have cervical dysplasia, conventional medicine will most likely recommend either cryotherapy or a LEEP. But the virus is in the body and treatment needs to address not only the abnormal cervical cells but also the HPV and support the immune system.
There are options:
An alternative approach to managing both abnormal pap smear results and HPV exists. Addressing the cause is key to treating the disease. This begins by educating the patient on safe sex practicing to decrease transmission of HPV. Smoking is linked to cervical cancer as it increases the duration of infection with high risk HPV. Smoking also weakens the immune system. Smoking cessation and supporting the immune system are an important part of treatment for cervical dysplasia. Poor nutritional status and oral contraceptives are linked to cervical disease and cancer. Folate and B12 deficiency has been associated with increased HPV infection. Also, a low serum retinol level has been linked to increased risk of cervical dysplasia. A comprehensive nutritional intake and dietary counseling should be included in treatment.
Naturopathic medicine can help the body shed the HPV and heal the abnormal cervical cells. These treatments include vitamins, minerals, botanicals and antioxidants both orally and vaginally. Treatments are individualized depending of the strain of HPV and severity of abnormal cervical cells. Some examples include; high dose folic acid, carotenoids, indole-3-carbinol, Vitamin- C, Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, coriolus versicolor. Not every patient needs these supplements and there are other supplements that may be required. Treatment is individualized. Vaginal treatments come in the form of escharotic therapy, herbal vaginal suppositories including compounded green tea. Most treatments are based on the genotype or specific strain of high risk HPV that is present.
It is important that a woman is informed of her options for managing her health. The least invasive, most natural, safe and effective treatments addressing the cause should be offered. There are times natural medicine is not an option for treating cervical cell changes due to the severity and location of disease.
If you would like to learn more about these options and discuss your health care, please contact us to schedule a consultation with a naturopathic doctor.
Article contributed by Dr. Marianne Marchese