HPV is a virus that causes abnormal cells of the cervix and/or genital warts. If the virus remains undetected, select strains can lead to cervical cancer. There are over 100 different HPV virus-subtypes with approximately 30 high-risk strains. The majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by:
- HPV 16 @ 50-60%
- HPV 18 @ 10-12%
- HPV 26, 35, 39, 45, 51, 56, 58, 59, 66, 68, 73 and 82 cause most of the remaining cases.
The majority of sexually active men and women have, at some point, acquired strains of HPV. For women, testing for HPV can be done with co-testing for HPV DNA during a normal Pap smear. Currently, there is no approved HPV test for men. Once contracted, HPV never leaves the body. In 40-50% of HPV cases, the virus goes dormant or spontaneous regression occurs and evidence of disease goes away. However, in 50-60% of cases there is an increased risk of developing cancer of the cervix, mouth, throat, tongue and other regions of the body. Risk of developing abnormal cells and/or cancer declines with age.
Test results typically give three outcomes:
- No HPV
- Low-risk HPV
- High-risk HPV
After testing, if results show the presence of abnormal cells in the low-risk and high-risk range, the different stages of cervical dysplasia follow a progressive scale for identification and treatment options.
Naturopathic Treatment Options
In addition to standard medical treatment, naturopathy supports a range of options to keep the body healthy whilst aiming for HPV virus infections to go dormant and prevent the virus from attacking the cervix leading to cell changes. The ultimate goal is to prevent cancerous growth from occurring. Depending on your HPV test results, IMI’s Naturopathic Physician Dr. Benita Perch (ND) recommends the following protocol if there are signs of HPV infection:
HPV+ and Normal Pap Smear = Systemic Support
At this stage, the most important thing is to prevent the virus from replicating by either encouraging it to remain dormant and/or to prevent viral attacks on the cervix.
- Nutrition: Foods high in antioxidants such as fruit and vegetables should be a regular part of dietary lifestyle. Keep inflammatory foods low such as sugar and processed foods.
- DNA and Epigenetics: Looking at DNA markers for methylation. Methylation is important in silencing virus replication.
- Homeopathy: Constitutional homeopathy treats the body as a whole aiming to support body’s natural functions and immune system responses.
- Folate: Found in vitamin B9, folate is a more readily absorbable form that prevents cell dysplasia from progressing
- Green tea extract: Effective at preventing the spread of HPV virus and induces cell-cycle arrest (stops replication of HPV virus)
- DIM (diindolymethane): This compound found in cruciferous vegetables helps the body’s liver detox from harmful alpha-estrogen towards positive hydroxyl-estrogen.
- Antiviral herbs: Lemon balm, St John’s Wort and licorice root
- Coriolus mushroom
- Immune boost: Vitamin C, zinc, beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium all are essential to preventing illness. These can be covered in a full-spectrum multivitamin designed for absorption.
HPV + with ASCUS & LSIL
For more advanced cases of HPV and cervical dysplasia, Dr. Perch recommends the systemic support outlined above with vaginal suppositories. Since this requires more intensive monitoring, it is suggested to make an appointment with a naturopathic physician to discuss a full treatment plan.
Traditional Pap smears look at cervical cells for irregular cells (dysplasia). To ensure testing for HPV, ask your medical professional for the HPV DNA test. Recommendations on frequency of testing vary depending on country. In addition to the guidelines below, if you or your partner has any risk factors or change sexual partners, conduct screening yearly.
With test results in hand, experienced naturopathic physicians at IMI work with and alongside traditional medical recommendations to integrate the benefits of natural medicine with your medical treatment.
Current guidelines, by country and for women only, include the following test recommendations:
*Every 3 years from age 25-64 after two consecutive normal smear results
*Every 3 years from 21-29 for all women. HPV screening is not recommended
*Ages 30-65, combined Pap smear and HPV test every 5 years
*Before 25, HPV screening is not recommended
*Ages 25-49, combined screening every 3 years
*Ages 50-64, combined screening every 5 years
Australia (starting in 2017):
*MSAC recommends to replace the traditional Pap smear with the HPV test for regular cervical screening
*Ages 25-74, both vaccinated and unvaccinated women have the HPV test
You or your partner is at risk for developing abnormal HPV cell growth in the following circumstances.
- Smoking (2x’s as likely to develop cervical cancer)
- HIV (immune-compromised)
- Chlamydia infection
- Poor nutrition (diet low in fruit and vegetables)
- Multiple partners (3 or more increases risk)
- Obesity and overweight
- Oral contraceptive use over 5 years
- Low socio-economic status
- Family history of cervical cancer
- Women are at a higher risk as soon as they become sexually active
- Lifestyle factors such as excessive drinking, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise and stress
For more information on supporting HPV infections and to create a personalised treatment plan that combines the power of natural medicine with standard medical treatment for the HPV, make an appointment with one of our experienced naturopathic physicians at IMI.