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Abnormal Pap Results; A Natural Approach to Cervical dysplasia

by Tara Skye Goldin,N.D.
Health Smart Today Fall 2004

It’s been two weeks since your annual health exam, and you haven’t given it a second thought since you left the doctor’s office – that is, until your phone rings. You’re told the results of your routine Pap smear are abnormal. You stop breathing, your heart starts racing, and you can feel your throat tighten. “Do I have cancer?” you wonder.

Thousands of women receive news of abnormal Pap results each year, and most of them fear the worst. Fortunately only a small number of abnormal Pap tests indicate cancer. The great majority are caused by cervical dysplasia, which is the abnormal growth of cells in the cervix. Cases of cervical dysplasia are classified as mild, moderate , or severe. Mild dysplasia is very treatable and can often be resolved non invasively using natural medicine. Many cases of mild dysplasia are simply a result of inflammation or irritation caused by yeast or bacteria. The cervical cells usually return to normal once the infection is treated.

Risk factors for developing cervical dysplasia include a compromised immune system, early onset of sexual activity, giving birth prior to age 22, cigarette smoking, multiple male sexual partners, and possibly oral contraceptive use.

Eight to ninety percent of women with cervical dysplasia have a current or prior human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. HPV is a group of more than 80 different viral strains. About one third are sexually transmitted, and some types cause genital warts.

Treatment Options: Conventional and holistic approaches

Due to limited insurance coverage and lack of access to, or knowledge about, good alternative medicine, most women choose conventional treatments for cervical dysplasia With low-grade lesions, conventional practitioners generally recommend a wait-and-see approach, repeating Pap smears every three months for one year. During this time, they are looking to see if the Pap smear results return to normal, worsen, or stay the same. For persistent low-grade lesions, the conventional approach is to do a procedure called LEEP (loop electro surgical excision procedure) to remove the lesion. Both conventional and alternative practitioners usually recommend a colposcopy (a biopsy of the abnormal tissues) for women with high grade lesions ro malignant lesions. Frequent follow-up Pap smears are performed to monitor the situation.

Naturopathic doctors handle cervical dysplasia by both treating the infection and boosting the immune system. Dr. John Bastyr, the naturopathic doctor for whom Bastyr University in Seattle is named, developed the protocol that is now widely used by alternative practitioners. The treatment consists of various herbal vaginal suppositories and specific immune-boosting and detoxifying herbs. It also involves high doses of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, folic acid, and vitamin C. These have been shown in several studies to detoxify carcinogens and aid in preventing the cellular changes that cause cervical dysplasia Some more advanced cases may require multiple visits to the practitioner’s office where an herbal mixture is applied directly to the cervix, but in most cases patients can self administer their treatment in the privacy of their own homes.

Tori Hudson, N.D. professor at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore., and the author of The Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Keats Publishing, 1999) did a research study of 43 women with cervical dysplasia using a version of Dr. Bastyr’s protocol and published the results in 1991.” Of 43 women, 38 returned to normal, three had partial improvements, and two stayed the same.” According to Dr. Hudson, the advantages to the natural approach are clear. First, women who use Dr. Bastyr’s approach have a lower risk of recurrence and are successful at restoring healthy tissue. But an even greater benefit is that they often experience an improvement in their overall health. “One can choose to see a test result such as an abnormal Pap smear as an opportunity to reflect on life and make positive lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Hudson. And in that case, the benefits of holistic treatment can reach far beyond improved Pap results.

Five years ago Catherine Drumheller, 32, of Westminster, Co , had a routine Pap smear indicate moderate cervical dysplasia It had been years since her last Pap smear, so when the results came back abnormal, she blamed herself. “ I was worried that it indicated a serious problem and that I had brought it upon myself by not getting regular checks,” Drumheller recalled. “I was afraid I would need invasive surgical treatment. Instead, I started naturopathic and nutritional treatment right away, and my fear was alleviated.” Over the next six months, her repeat Pap smears gradually returned to normal and she has had normal Pap smear results ever since.

Drumheller decided to pursue alternative means to heal her cervical dysplasia based upon her prior success with natural medicine. “Natural medicine has always been very effective for me. I wanted to get to the root of the problem rather than just cut it out.” Since doing the treatment, Drumheller has also noticed an overall improvement in her health and is no longer plagued by the recurring throat infections she once suffered. Other patients have reported that, along with increased wellness, they feel empowered by taking proactive responsibility for their health.

Molly Linton,N.D., a naturopathic doctor in private practice in Seattle, has treated more than 500 women using the protocol developed by Dr. Bastyr. “Of the 500 women, only four have not had success. Two were so depleted that their immune systems just couldn't kick in, another just could’t give up coffee, and another was traveling from out of state to get treatment and that was actually adding to her stress. But all the rest of my patients had their Pap smears return to normal.” Dr. Linton also concurs with Dr. Hudson regarding the lower rate of recurrence. “In my practice I have had no recurrence within five years post treatment. We have had no return abnormal Paps. My patients have changed their lifestyles and their immune systems have kicked in.”

Drumheller adds,”One has to follow the treatment protocol and commit to doing it. It is not for someone who doesn't want to take responsibility. It takes a personal commitment to treat the root of the problem.” But with her own dedication and some help from her naturopathic doctor, Drumheller took control of her health and solved a potentially serious problem using natural means.


Lifestyle Choices to Support a Healthy Cervix (from Drs. Hudson and Linton)

    • Practice safe sex. Using condoms helps to prevent the transmission of HPV, a contributing factor in 90 percent of cervical dysplasia cases.
    • Drink up! Try to drink at least one third of your body weight in ounces of pure water each day. Keep in mind that you need even more water if you are lactating or live in a dry climate.
    • Eat your protein. Protein is a major building block for the immune system and healthy tissue.
    • Go organic. Organic fruits and vegetables contain carotenoid and flavonoid compounds that support a healthy immune system. Organic is preferable since pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides may be carcinogenic and may alter the body’s hormonal balance.
    • Sleep. Sleep is the body’s time to rest and repair and is important for a healthy immune system tissue.
    • Get up and go! Exercise aids promoting healthy circulation, oxygenation of tissues, and detoxification.
    • Take your vitamins. A good multivitamin adds important nutrients that may be missing in the diet and can counteract the effects of stress on the body.
    • Get an annual Pap smear. Most doctors agree that women should have an annual physical and Pap smear to catch any potential problems early.

References:

Mackerras D, Irwig L, et al. Randomized double-blind trial of beta-carotene and vitamin C in women with minor cervical abnormalities. Br J Cancer, 1999 Mar;79(9-10):1448-53.

Nagata C, Shimuzu H, et al. Serum Carotenoids and vitamins and risk of cervical dysplasia from a case-control study in Japan. Br J Cancer, 1999 Dec;81(7):1234-7.

Marshall K. Cervical dysplasia: early intervention. Altern Med Rev, 2003 May;8(2):156-70.

Stanger O, Lemmerer M, et al. Homocysteine, folate, and dysplasia: Who is the enemy? Nutrition, 2001 Feb;17(2):186-7.

Kwasniewska A, Tukendorf A, et al. Content of folic acid and free homocysteine in blood serum of human papillomavirus-infected women with cervical dysplasia. Eur J Gynaecol Oncol, 2002:23(4):311-6.

Thomson SW, Heimburger DC, et al. Correlates of total plasma homocysteine: folic acid, copper, and cervical dysplasia. Nutrition, 2000 Jun;16(6):411-6.

Rock CL, Michael CW, et al. Prevention of cervix cancer. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol, 2000 Mar;33(3):169-85.

Hernandez BY, McDuffie K, et al. Diet and premalignant lesions of the cervix: evidence of a protective role for folate, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamin B12. Cancer Causes Control, 2003 Nov; 14(9):859-70.

Giuliano AR. The role of nutrients in the prevention of cervical dysplasia and cancer. Nutrition, 2000 Jul-Aug;16(7-8):570-3.

Hudson T. Consecutive case study research of carcinoma in situ of cervix employing local escharotic treatment combined with nutritional therapy. J Nat Med, 1991; 2(6-10):19.

Hudson T. Esharotic treatment for cervical dysplasia and carcinoma in situ. J Nat Med, 1993;4(1):23.