The cervix is part of the female reproductive system located in the lower part of the uterus where it meets the vagina. The cervix helps lubricate the vaginal area and provides support to pelvic ligaments. It allows the flow of menstrual blood from the uterus into the vagina and directs sperm into the uterus during intercourse. In addition, the cervix keeps an unborn fetus in the uterus until it is born.
Common Cervical Health Problems and Procedures
Cervical dysplasia is a common problem that refers to abnormal changes in the cells on the surface of the cervix. The changes are not cancerous, but they can lead to cancer if not treated. A possible disease of the cervix is called HPV (human papilloma virus). About 20 million Americans currently have HPV, which is the most common sexually transmitted disease. HPV is a virus that can lead to cervical cancer if not monitored and treated properly. The common age groups affected by cervical cancer are between 15-34.
A Pap test looks for abnormal cell changes. If the PAP results come back abnormal, your doctor will guide you through the next steps. A female’s cervical cells are most vulnerable to abnormal cell growth at puberty, during a first pregnancy and a few weeks following the birth of a child.
Often times, the first step after an abnormal PAP is a colposcopy, which is a biopsy of the abnormal tissue. From there it can be determined whether or not there are pre-cancerous or cancerous cells present. If the cells are benign, then the doctor will order another PAP in 6 months. If the biopsy is abnormal, then the next step is usually a LEEP procedure where the abnormal cells are cut away using a thin wire loop that carries an electrical current.
Some Common Risk Factors
Early age of first intercourse, multiple sexual partners, Herpes Simplex II and Papilloma viruses, smoking, oral contraceptive use, and nutritional factors are common risk factors for developing cervical health issues. HSV II is the virus that is highly associated with cervical cancer. It is important to note that smokers tend to have a threefold increase in incidence compared to non-smokers. Smoking may depress immune function and allow STD’s to enter and lead to abnormal cellular development. Smoking also causes vitamin C deficiency. Long term use of oral contraceptive pills can lead to decrease levels of vitamin C, B6, B12, folic acid, riboflavin, and zinc.
As stated previously, PAP tests are important when it comes to the prevention of cervical health problems. This test is a way of screening for disease. It is important to get a yearly PAP smear, especially if you are sexually active. Of course, abstinence from sexual contact and cigarette smoking will help to prevent contracting HPV. In addition, eating a healthy diet and regulating stress levels are important in disease prevention. Nutrition plays a huge role in cervical health. Vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folic acid, pyridoxine, selenium, copper, and zinc have been found to be depleted in women with cervical dysplasia. Supplementation of the depleted nutrients is key. There are multiple naturopathic approaches in healing cervical dysplasia, including the use of natural suppositories that can help fight off the virus. Homeopathic and botanical remedies are also available.