Cervical Cancer: Good Nutrition, Regular Screenings & Safe Sex Can Protect You & Your Fertility!
Posted Jan 19 2011 4:16am
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month – and it packs a powerful message no woman can afford to ignore. Here’s what you need to know.
By Colette Bouchez
As we spin head first into a brand new year – and a brand new list of resolutions we’re eager to tackle- it’s easy to let some of life’s more mundane tasks slip by - especially health screenings.
Which is one reason why health awareness months can serve such a strong and powerful purpose: They remind us of the importance of taking care of our health and move us in the direction of preventive care.
If you’re a woman, never is this more true than it is right now during January, the month dedicated to cervical cancer awareness - a disease which, while it affects some 12,00 women a year, can be prevented!
Indeed, with the help of 2 important cervical cancer screening tools – the Pap smear (which looks for abnormal cells within the cervix) and the HPV test ( which detects the human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer ) your doctor has the power to not just detect this disease at its earliest, most easily treated stages, but in many instances detect the kind of pre-cancerous cell changes that, once treated, can stop this disease from ever occurring.
And that’s not just good news for your overall health – it’s also great news for your fertility.
Cervical Cancer and Getting Pregnant: What You Should Know
Though it has a specific name, your cervix is actually the lower portion of your uterus. It is the “connector ” which brings together the upper part of your uterus (where your baby attaches to the lining and grows) and the birth canal, through which your baby is born. So it’s easy to see how the health of your cervix is vital to your fertility.
Normally, that health is maintained by the lining of the cervix – a layer of cells that develop, grow and die, and are replaced by new cells, in a cycle that lasts anywhere from 7 to 14 days. The continuing turnover of these cells is one factor that determines cervical health
When, however, due to any number of health challenges these cells come under attack - including infection with the HPV virus - that normal life cycle becomes disrupted. Cells don’t die as they should, and as a result they begin to build up, causing the lining of your cervix to thicken and change in both shape and form. This cell “overgrowth” is known as “dysplasia” – a condition said to affect between 250,000 and 1 million women a year.
Fortunately, for some women dysplasia – even that caused by HPV - can revert to normal on its own. When your immune system is strong, and you are healthy, you simply overcome the HPV virus – or whatever factor is causing the cell build-up - and the dysplasia stops.
For a significant number of women, however, this isn’t the case. For these women, the HPV, if present, does not go away, and the dysplasia – regardless of the cause – continues to worsen. Eventually, if not stopped, these cell changes lead to the development of cervical cancer, which can progress at an alarmingly fast rate.
Unfortunately, the treatment for late stage cervical cancer involves removing not just the cervix, but the entire uterus and usually the ovaries , which is often followed by either chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of both. All of this pretty much puts an end to childbearing.
The Good News: According to fertility expert Dr. Niels Lauersen, “ If you catch those cervical cell changes early on and not only can the dysplasia be treated and the cancer prevented - or caught and treated at a very early stage - the treatments won’t harm your ability to have a baby ! “
Lauersen says that treatments for dysplasia or early cervical cancer can include either electro cauterization or laser vaporization (both work to burn away or vaporize the pre-cancer or early stage cancer cells.) Other treatments also include the Leep procedure (which uses electrical current passed through thin wire loop to remove the abnormal tissue) or a “cone” biopsy (which removes a wedge shaped piece of the cervix containing the bad cells). And none of these procedures will interfere with your ability to get pregnant in the future!
Protecting Your Fertility: What Else You Can Do
While having regular Pap smears and tests for HPV are two ways to protect your fertility, since the HPV virus is sexually transmitted, if you are not in a monogamous relationship ( or your partner is not monogamous) you might also want to consider the protection of Gardasil – the first and only vaccine shown to protect against HPV.
Although the vaccine has been the subject of some controversy – with some women having experienced life –threatening and life-changing side effects – to date the vast majority of women who have had the Gardasil vaccine appear to suffer no serious side effects or lasting problems.
If, however, you don’t want to get the vaccine, then practicing safe sex is a must – and using condoms is essential.
Perhaps most important to remember is that good nutrition can also make an important preventive difference in protecting against both cervical cancer and the effects of HPV . According to Dr. Lauersen’s new book Green Fertility: Nature’s Secrets To Making Babies, there are also a number of key vitamins and nutrients that studies have shown can help protect against the cell changes that lead to dysplasia – or in some instances even reverse dysplasia once it begins. As a bonus, these same nutrients protect your fertility as well!
Among the most important he says, are Vitamins C, E, and beta carotene ( vitamin A) , plus other carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, squash and cantaloupe.
What do all these nutrients have in common? Lauersen says they are all antioxidants, natural chemicals which enhance immune system function. And according to experts this could hold the key to protecting cervical cells from undergoing unhealthy changes.
How Vitamins Can Protect You From Cancer
Indeed, in a study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, researchers found that women who had cervical dysplasia routinely had lower blood levels of both beta carotene and vitamin E when compared to healthy women. Moreover, there was also a direct correlation between the amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin E in the blood, and the stage of cervical abnormality – with the more advanced cases having the more significant nutrient deficiencies.
Likewise, a previous study also conducted at Albert Einstein, found that women who consumed less than 30 mg of vitamin C daily were 10 times more likely to develop cervical dysplasia than women who consumed more.
In studies elsewhere, doctors showed that topically applying vitamin A directly into the cervix was able to reverse cell changes associated with dysplasia in up to 50% of women
According to Green Fertility, another key nutrient is folic acid or vitamin B9. How can this help? As you read earlier, cells lining the cervix renew themselves every 7 to 14 days – and in the process continually form new DNA. Lauersen says that when the body is short on folic acid, abnormalities in DNA formation can occur – and that can mean a higher risk of dysplasia.
Conversely, keep your folic acid levels high – at least 400 mcg per day – and you may keep your DNA production humming along in a normal and healthy fashion. Not surprisingly, folic acid is also the nutrient that can protect the DNA in the cells of your developing baby, thus helping to ensure a successful pregnancy and reduce your risk of miscarriage at the same time.
So, along with regular screenings, practicing safe sex, and the addition of these nutrients to your diet, you not only have the power to reduce your risk of cervical cancer, but maybe even eliminate that risk entirely – and preserve your fertility for years to come. And that’s the kind of awareness that can make a real difference in your life!
Colette Bouchez is the co-author of Green Fertility: Nature’s Secrets For Making Babies.
Copyright by Colette Bouchez 2011 - All Rights Reserved. In addition to US Copyright, the text of this FERTILITY BLOG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. All Formatting and style elements of this page are not available under this license and Colette Bouchez retains all rights in those elements. The owners and contributors to this blog may or may not benefit from the products, services or treatments mentioned herein.