Cervical Cancer: A Preventable Killer

Thousands of women in North America die each year from invasive cervical cancer. The National Cancer Institute of Canada estimates that there were 1,450 new cases of invasive cervical cancer and 430 deaths in 2000. Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented.

Cervical cancer is third in incidence between Canadian women aged 20 and 34, and second in incidence between women aged 35 to 49. Early cervical cancer is easy to treat and the prognosis is good. However, what is not usually recognized is that early precancerous changes of the cervix (dysplasia) can be prevented and reversed through the use of nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes. In addition, genital warts and even cancer in situ (cancer cells that are confined to the surface area of the cervix and have not spread to the deeper tissues) respond favourably to natural treatments.

Smoking is a major risk factor associated with a two-to four-fold increased incidence of cervical cancer. Recent studies have shown that carcinogens in cigarette smoke are selectively concentrated in cervical mucus at levels 10 to 20 times higher than in the blood.

Folic acid, an important cofactor needed by the enzymes that make DNA and one that is often deficient in pill users, can protect against precancerous changes in the cervix. All women on the pill and all women of childbearing age should be taking folic acid supplements.

In dosages of five to 10 milligrams daily, folic acid can reverse mildly abnormal pap smears. A recent well-designed study showed that folate deficiency is a co-carcinogen during the initiation stage of cervical dysplasia, especially if certain types of human papilloma virus or HPV (16 and 18) are also present. However, folate acid alone will not reverse severe cervical dysplasia.

Other nutritional considerations are as follows:

  • Beta-carotene: Low serum beta-carotene rates have been associated with a greater risk of cervical dysplasia.
  • Vitamin C: Inadequate vitamin C intake is an independent risk factor for the development of precancerous abnormalities and cancer in situ.
  • Vitamin B6: Levels are decreased in one-third of patients with cervical cancer.
  • Selenium: Blood and dietary levels of the trace mineral selenium are significantly lower in women with cervical dysplasia. The soil levels of selenium are also lower.
  • Iron: A 1993 study showed that low dietary iron levels and low blood levels of ferritin (reflective of iron stores) were associated with a higher cervical cancer risk.

Birth Control and Cervical Changes

The use of the birth control pill leads to several nutritional deficiencies, most notably of folic acid. However other nutritional deficiencies can occur, including vitamins C, B2, B6, B12 and zinc.

Several studies have shown that precancerous changes in the cervix are increased in women on the pill. Other studies have not confirmed this finding.

A 1988 update of a study that had been going on in Britain for the last 20 years links the pill with cervical cancer. The incidence of cervical cancer in women who had taken the pill for more than ten years was four times greater than for women who had not. The overall incidence of cancer of the cervix was increased in women who had used the pill.

It is important to remember that the condom, the diaphragm and the cervical cap pose absolutely no risk to women’s health, and in addition have a protective effect against cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

Dr Alex Ferenczy, professor at the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal, believes that cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease. He points out that 95 percent of invasive cancers are positive for certain types of wart virus or human papilloma virus. A definite association between infection with HPV and cervical cancer has been shown in the medical literature. However, only about one per cent of all sexually active men and women have genital warts.

Naturopathic Treatments

Dr Tori Hudson, medical director of the Portland Naturopathic Clinic in Oregon, has devised an effective naturopathic protocol for treating women with abnormal pap smears, moderate and severe dysplasia, HPV and even cancer in situ. The protocol consists of three parts: local treatment using a special herbal pack and vitamin A suppositories applied directly to the cervix; stimulating the immune system through oral supplements of vitamin C, beta-carotene, selenium, folic acid and special herbal combinations; and treatments to improve overall health including a vegan diet, stopping smoking and practising safe sex.

The herbal pack was developed in the 19th century and has been regularly used by naturopathic physicians for the last 50 years. The pack is made up of magnesium sulphate, glycerin, goldenseal tincture, thuja oil, tea tree oil, bitter orange oil and vital minerals, and can only be applied in an office setting by a naturopathic physician. The herbal pack causes the superficial cells of the cervix to slough off and then heal within seven to 10 days.

Dr Hudson’s protocol adds a combination of zinc chloride and sanguinaria (bloodroot), as well as powdered bromelain and vitamin A suppositories to the herbal packs.

In 1991, Dr Hudson did a small study of 43 women with cervical dysplasia and HPV using her treatments. She had excellent results with 38 patients demonstrating complete regression of abnormalities. Three showed partial regression and only two showed a persistence of abnormalities.

A recent study showed that a derivative of vitamin A applied to the cervix using a cervical cap could reverse mild or moderate cervical dysplasia, but not severe dysplasia, after daily applications for only four days and then two days at months three and six. Even this minimal treatment had a substantial effect. Dr Hudson’s program is much more intensive and holistic in its approach.

The Emotional Connection

Symbolically, the cervix represents a transition time in women’s lives, a time with the potential for change, growth and transformation. “Cervical dysplasias can result when a women is conflicted about wanting to be all things to all people such as the woman who is a mother works and full time,” says Dr Cristiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. “A poor diet, environmental pollution, low self-esteem and a bit of religious shame can set the scene for cervical dysplasias.”

Northrup refers to studies that show that women whose precancerous lesions become severe are those who are passive and pessimistic in stressful situations. Other studies showed that women with cervical cancer tend to more often experience recent loss of family members, unhappy relationships and not liking the sexual relationship with their partner. In any case, stress does not cause cervical cancer but may be an important contributing factor along with nutritional deficiencies, lifestyle factors and HPV infection.

Vitamin A Suppositories

Melt one ounce (two tablespoons/30 grams) of cocoa butter in a double boiler and add:
4 Tbsp (60 g) slippery elm powder
1 Tbsp (15 ml) vitamin E oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) vitamin A liquid.

Stir and pour into suppository moulds. Use one suppository nightly for six straight nights. Repeat every other week for six weeks (three weeks total in treatment). Note: These suppositories should not be used during pregnancy, and supervision is recommended. Ingredients are available from health food stores or premade suppositories are available to practitioners only at Bezwecken Transdermal Systems Inc, 12525 SW 3rd St, Beaverton, Oregon, 97005, USA. Phone 1-503-644-7800.

Suggested Cervix Supplements

  • folic acid: 10 mg per day for three months, then 2.5 mg daily
  • vitamin B6: 50 mg three times a day
  • vitamin B12: one mg a day
  • beta-carotene: 200,00 IU per day
  • vitamin C: 1,000 mg per day
  • vitamin E: 200 to 400 IU per day
  • selenium: 400 micrograms per day
  • zinc: 30 mg per day

Pap Smear Screening

George Papanicolaou, MD, created the pap smear in the 1930s, and it is currently the best tool we have for screening for cervical cancer and its forerunners such as genital warts. Currently it is recommended that all sexually active women between the ages of 18 and 35 get a pap test every three years provided the first two annual smears are negative. From the age of 35 to 69, women should have pap smears done every five years, at which time screening can be discontinued if all previous smears have been negative. It has been found that women who have high risk of developing invasive cervical cancer–women between 50 and 69, as well as First Nations, immigrant and low-income women–are those who have never had a pap smear or who don’t get them done every five years.

However, as Dr Gavin Stuart of the University of Calgary has pointed out, the persistence of invasive cervical cancer primarily reflects the lack of a well-organized, centralized screening program in most provinces. Pap tests can also be unreliable if the smear does not sample the area between the inner and outer cervix known as the “transformation zone” or if the lab makes an error in interpretation.

According to Dr Robert Lotocki, assistant professor of gynecological oncology at the University of Manitoba, two-thirds of false negative smears are caused because the physician did not adequately sample the transformation zone. In addition, he advises all labs to have a proper quality assurance program in place in order to ensure consistency and reliability in interpreting pap smears.

Source: C. DeMarco, MD

Questioning Pap Smears

Pap smears are a highly profitable industry, netting Canadian physicians an estimated 200 million dollars annually. Yet there has never been any rigorous testing done on their efficacy. And no clinical trials have monitored and followed women who had paps and those who did not. The rate of mortality from cervical cancer in BC (1950–1971) where a mass screening program had taken place was similar to the number of deaths in Ontario where no screening had been done. Furthermore, cervical cancer deaths had declined in North America prior to the pap screening programs.

Pap smears are designed to detect cell changes, as these are believed to be the precursor to cancer. But this theory is challenged by the many women who have had “abnormal” smears, refused medical intervention and gone on to have “normal” smears, indicating that the condition simply righted itself. In fact, there is no agreement in the medical profession over the appropriate treatment of abnormal smears. One school of thought believes that as many as one-third of treatments are unnecessary, as abnormalities generally disappear by themselves.

Source: Paula Linquist, author of Not to My Cervix in alive #165

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