Very few cancers can be identified so far ahead of the danger point as cancer of the cervix. A decade or more before invasive cancer develops, the cells lining the surface of the cervix begin to show changes visible under a microscope—in plenty of time for definitive treatment. For this reason, a regular, properly performed and interpreted Pap smear is one of medicine's most effective preventive methods.
The stages of progression from a healthy cervix to cancer begin with what is called mild dysplasia: precancerous alterations in structure and activity. Prolonged infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) is thought to be the primary cause of these changes. Subsequently, altered cells spread from the surface of the cervix down toward the underlying tissue. In the early stages, cancerous changes may disappear on their own, but once these cells fully penetrate the lining, progression to true cancer usually occurs within 5 to 10 years.
Medical treatment consists of watchful waiting for spontaneous regression during the early stages of dysplasia and, if no regression occurs, more aggressive removal of the cervical lining by laser, freezing, or other techniques. These options are usually successful; however, they are invasive and frequently uncomfortable.
The vaccine for preventing HPV infection is expected to markedly reduce cervical cancer risk.
Proposed Natural Treatments
It has been claimed that various natural herbs and supplements can improve the odds of early stages of dysplasia changing back to normal cells. If your physician suggests watchful waiting and a repeat examination, it should be safe to try some of these methods during the waiting period. However, there is no reliable scientific evidence that these treatments are effective, and in all circumstances close medical supervision is necessary to verify good results or identify failure. Alternative treatment is definitely not advisable for advanced cervical dysplasia.
Some practitioners of herbal medicine feel that a class of herbs known as emmenagogues can be helpful in cervical dysplasia. These include squaw vine,
8. Keefe KA, Schell MJ, Brewer C, et al. A randomized, double blind, phase III trial using oral beta-carotene supplementation for women with high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2001;10:1029-1035.
11. Suh-Burgmann E, Sivret J, Duska LR, et al. Long-term administration of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone on regression of low-grade cervical dysplasia—a pilot study. Gynecol Obstet Invest . 2003:55:25-31.
12. Chen DZ, Qi M, Auborn KJ, Carter TH. Indole-3-carbinol and diindolylmethane induce apoptosis of human cervical cancer cells and in murine HPV16-transgenic preneoplastic cervical epithelium. J Nutr. 2001;131:3294-302.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
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