According to the NSW cancer council 1 in 10 pap smears shows some abnormality. These cell changes in the cervix can vary in severity from mild, reversible changes to cervical cancer.
Women can lower their risk of cervical cancer by avoiding the high risk factors that have been linked to the development of cervical cell abnormalities and the subsequent progression of these changes to cervical cancer.
What does an abnormal Pap smear mean?
Pathological processes in the cells for the cervix can give rise to a spectrum of changes that can all show up as abnormal on a Pap smear. Some atypical cells are benign and may be due to bacterial, fungal or viral infections.
Changes can also result in cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN), also known as dysplasia. CIN has the potential to become invasive cervical cancer. CIN is graded into 3 stages of severity. Mild dysplasia (CIN I), moderate dysplasia (CIN II), which are seen as low grade squamous epithelial lesion. Severe dysplasia (CIN III) and Carcinoma in situ (CIN III) are high grade squamous epithelial lesions.
The risk factors for cervical dysplasia and cervical-cancer are similar, and are largely attributed to lifestyle and nutritional factors. Smoking cigarettes, sexual activity, acquiring certain viruses, using oral contraceptives, immune suppression, and nutritional deficiencies are just some of the risk factors that increase the chances of developing cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.
Certain viruses increase the likelihood of the development of abnormal cells. These are Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV-2).
Although HPV is usually present in women with cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer, the vast majority of women with HPV do not develop CIN or cervical cancer. It is thought that other factors such as smoking and poor nutrition need to be present in addition to HPV to promote the development of CIN. Thus the presence of HPV alone does not seem sufficient to cause cervical cancer in most cases.
Smoking (including passive smoking) has been associated with cervical cancer and cervical dysplasia. Studies demonstrate a modest but significant increase in the relative risk with smoking. Smoking has been shown to depress the immune system and induce vitamin C deficiency which may contribute to the development of abnormal cells.
Cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer are related to sexual intercourse. It is extremely rare in nuns, and women who have never engaged in sexual intercourse have very little risk of developing cervical cancer. In addition to this, the incidence increases with early first intercourse and early child bearing.
The use of oral contraceptive pills can lead to immune depression and in this way predispose a woman to cervical changes. The use of oral contraceptives (especially long term use) can decrease numerous nutrient levels which are involved in immunity.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies play a major role in the onset of cervical cell changes.
A high fat intake has also been linked to cervical cancer, while a diet high in vegetables and fruits is believed to protect against cervical cancer.
Several studies demonstrate the definite association between cervical dysplasia and deficiencies in folic acid, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin A and beta-carotene.
Other nutrients also associated with changes in the cervix include B vitamins and zinc.
There is much literature suggesting that there is a role for nutrients in the prevention of cervical dysplasia and cancer.
Lack of biannual Pap smears
Fortunately, Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that has well-defined precancerous stages, and having regular Pap smears means that cell changes can be detected and treated early before they become cancerous.
As outlined above, there are various risk factors that can be avoided to reduce the chance of developing cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. There are also many nutritional factors that have been shown to reverse early dysplasia. If you would like more information, please contact one of our Naturopathic practitioners at the clinic.