The Anxiety of an Abnormal Pap Smear: Dr. Marianne Marchese discusses the options for managing an abnormal pap smear and HPV
Dec 31, 2012 10:56AM
By Marianne Marchese, NMD
At some point in her life, almost every woman will get a 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, in which abnormal cervical cells are burned off or cryotherapy, which freezes the cells. Both of these procedures entail risks and side effects and can complicate pregnancy. The most common long-term effect of a LEEP procedure is increased risk for preterm birth. The good news is that there are options for managing an abnormal pap smear and HPV.
Some women believe they are not at risk for HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cell changes and cervical cancer, because they received an HPV vaccine. But the vaccine only includes two strains of the HPV that are linked to cervical disease, while there are many others, and it is now possible to test for exactly which strain a woman has.
A pap smear that comes back as abnormal will have cells that are changing, called dysplasia. An abnormality can be mild or severe. If a pap smear comes back abnormal, a woman may need to have a colposcopy performed to determine what is happening to the cells of the cervix. This procedure allows for a biopsy to be taken, which yields 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. With 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.
An alternative approach to managing both abnormal pap smear results and HPV begins by educating patients about practicing safe sex to decrease transmission of HPV. Smoking is also linked to cervical cancer because it weakens the immune system and increases the duration of infection with high-risk HPV. Smoking cessation and support of the immune system are an important part of treatment for cervical dysplasia. Poor nutritional status has been linked to cervical disease and cancer. Folate and B12 deficiency have also been associated with increased HPV infection. Low serum retinol level is connected with increased risk of cervical dysplasia. A comprehensive nutritional intake and dietary counseling should be included in any treatment plan.
Natural medicine can help the body shed the HPV and heal the abnormal cervical cells. These treatments include vitamins, minerals, botanicals and antioxidants, taken both orally and vaginally. Treatments are individualized, depending on the strain of HPV and severity of abnormal cervical cells.
It is important that a woman be informed of the options for managing her health. The least invasive, most natural, safe and effective treatments addressing the cause should be offered. There are times when natural medicine is not an option for treating cervical cell changes due to the severity and location of disease. Women should advise a specialist to guide them through the process of managing an abnormal pap smear and HPV.
Dr. Marchese is the author of 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness. She maintains a private practice at Longevity Medical Health Center, in Phoenix, and teaches gynecology at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. Contact her at LongevityMedical.com.