Going in for your routine female pelvic exam can be an anxiety-provoking experience, but receiving the news that your pap was abnormal is downright frightening. Your friend may say one thing while your doctor says another. What is the truth? Here are the answers to some of your most pressing questions:
Myth: The pap smear tells you whether you have cervical cancer.
Fact: The pap smear is a screening test that determines whether the cells on your cervix are normal or abnormal, the latter termed cervical dysplasia. Depending on the severity of cervical dysplasia, your doctor may recommend a follow-up pap smear or a colposcopy with biopsy, which determines whether you are at risk for developing cervical cancer.
Myth: My pap came back abnormal and that means I have cervical cancer.
Fact: It may be alarming to hear that you have cervical dysplasia, but in reality the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 3 million women receive abnormal or unclear pap results every year; only about 10,000, or .33 percent, of those women actually go on to develop cervical cancer.
Myth: Nobody knows what causes cervical dysplasia.
Fact: Human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, is one of the main causes of cervical dysplasia and is common in women younger than 30. Tobacco and alcohol use and multiple sexual partners are risk factors for developing cervical dysplasia.
Myth: My lifestyle has no impact on whether I develop cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer.
Fact: Eating foods rich in vitamins C and E, beta-carotenes, folate and omega-3 oils all support the immune system and work toward eradication of HPV infection. Avoiding the above-mentioned risk factors, while getting adequate sleep and exercise and taking herbal antivirals all support the body’s natural ability to take care of infections.
Consider making an appointment with one of the naturopathic physicians at Bastyr Center for Natural Health if you have further questions about cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer, or if you want to know specific ways to support your body’s immune system.
— Emily Lesnak, ND, naturopathic doctor and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.