Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. There are over 100 strains and most people who become infected with HPV do not know they even have it. Many types of HPV cancers are not detected until they cause health problems. You can get HPV by having oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone who has the virus. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own though some types can cause genital warts and cancer. Low-risk HPV types 6 and 11 are associated with genital warts and high-risk types 16, 18, 26, 31, 33, 45, etc. are associated with cervical cancer. HPV is a virus that enters cells and can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). Per the Center of Disease Center (CDC), HPV is thought to cause 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States.
Females can prevent cervical cancer by using protection with intercourse (i.e. condoms) and getting routine screenings. Before cervical screening guidelines were developed, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of deaths among women in the U.S. The Pap smear test looks for precancerous cells and the HPV test screens for the presence of 13-14 of the most common high-risk HPV types. Both tests use cells taken from the cervix.
Per guidelines of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG), females aged 21-29 should have a Pap test every three years, and females 30-65 years should have co-testing (Pap and HPV test) every 5 years.
Females over the age of 65 years can choose to stop having cervical cancer screening if they have a negative history for abnormal cells or cancer. Females whom have had a hysterectomy still require screening since cervical cells may remain at the top of the vagina. Having an HPV vaccine does not change screening recommendations. There is an HPV vaccine available, if interested, speak to your medical provider to see if it is right for you. It is also important to note that there have been many adverse events reported since FDA approved the vaccines for HPV. Most commonly reported symptoms include: syncope, pain at the injection site, headaches, nausea, and fever. Serious adverse events include: nervous system disorder, Guillan-Barre syndrome, thromboembolic events, immune system problems, including hypersensitivity reactions, bronchospasm and urticaria.
While most people clear HPV infections within one to two years, others do not which increases the risk of developing cancer later in life. Here are things you can do to lower your chances of getting HPV and the related cancers.
Consistent use of barrier contraceptives like condoms and dental dams can lower the chance of person to person transmission.
Routine screening for cervical cancer for females starting at 21 years old.
Naturopathic treatment for abnormal Pap and HPV tests includes lifestyle modifications, topical treatments and oral supplementation to support overall immune system. Lifestyle changes include not smoking and reducing consumption of animal fats. Oral supplementation regimen may include folic acid, selenium, zinc, vitamin B6, C and E. There are compounding pharmacies that make suppositories from specialized formulas with ingredients like green tea, thuja or vitamin A which can be very effective.
It goes without saying that no supplement regimen can undo an improper diet. Nourishing yourself with nutrient-rich foods will provide complex combination of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are needed to protect the body and support healing.
Contact your doctor and schedule a screening annual well-woman exam if you are due! Running other lab tests and functional assessments can help identify any nutrient deficiencies and immune dysfunction increasing your risk of infection and development of all cancers. This is also a great time to discuss your personal risk factors, lifestyle recommendations and more such as your pelvic floor health and address any concerns regarding your periods or your fertility and even your future bone health.
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