HPV is a scary diagnosis… you can’t see it, you probably can’t feel it… and suddenly you’re hearing the big “C” word: Cancer.
It’s overwhelming and scary… and sadly, many western practitioners don’t do much reassuring, explaining, or even provide all the options for treatment and management.
And they definitely don’t want to talk about natural treatments for HPV…
But the truth is that you DO have options when it comes to treating HPV and the abnormal cells it can cause.
Today, I’m writing for anyone facing an HPV diagnosis. I know it is frightening and overwhelming – and I want to help. Let’s talk about HPV, and I’ll share a case study of one of my real-life patients who took a more natural route to treating HPV, with amazing results.
What Is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.
In 2018 alone, the CDC reported 43 million HPV infections. The bottom line is that most sexually active people have HPV at some point in their life.
Why is HPV so common?
Unlike other STIs, HPV can be spread even without any symptoms. In general, men are not routinely screened and have no symptoms, so they are often unknowingly spreading it. And, like men, women with HPV often have no outward symptoms. Because symptoms aren’t noticeable, it could be years after you contract HPV that you find out you have it during a routine pap smear or STI test. That makes tracking back to where you got it, and who you might have spread it to, nearly impossible.
But the most important thing to know about HPV is that in the vast majority of cases it is no big deal. Most people contract HPV and clear the virus on their own. Think of getting over a cold: your immune system does the work and takes care of it.
But for the people who aren’t able to clear HPV on their own, it can cause problems. That’s what we’re going to discuss today.
When HPV Doesn’t Resolve On Its Own
When HPV doesn’t resolve on its own, it can cause the development of abnormal cells on the cervix that can eventually lead to cervical cancer.
HPV doesn’t typically cause noticeable symptoms, and this is one of the reasons women need routine pap smears. We can’t see or feel the start of cervical cancer without an exam, but if caught early and addressed, it can be stopped before it evolves into full-blown cancer.
Even if you’re working with an alternative practitioner, don’t skip your GYN exam. It’s really important.
So you did it, you went in for your pap smear or gynecological exam… only to get bad news: either your pap smear or your HPV test was abnormal.
Depending on your doctor, you might have been tested for HPV and gotten a positive result, and then come back for a pap smear… or your doctor might have started with a pap smear, and found abnormal cells on your cervix – also called cervical dysplasia.
Once cervical dysplasia has been found, the next step is usually a procedure called a colposcopy. This procedure takes tiny biopsies of the cervix for a closer look (compared to just scraping the top layer of the cervix in a pap smear).
The colposcopy shows what level of abnormal cells you have: low, moderate, or high, called CIN-1, CIN-2, or CIN-3.
In most cases, if your results show just CIN-1 or 2, your doctor will recommend a “watch and wait” approach. The hope is that your body will fight off the HPV and reverse the abnormal cells on its own.
If you have CIN-3 or CIN-2-3 (which means it’s unclear if cells are CIN-2 or CIN-3), the next step is typically a loop electrosurgical excision procedure, better known as a LEEP. The LEEP takes a larger biopsy piece to get a better diagnosis and hopefully removes all the abnormal cells, too.
Doctors also often hope that as the body heals the cervix after the LEEP procedure, it will also recognize the HPV virus and fight it off.
After the LEEP procedure, you’ll follow up with another pap smear, with the hope that the abnormal cells are gone. You can also expect more frequent pap smears over the next few years.
If your follow-up pap smear isn’t clear, the next step could be another LEEP… or even a hysterectomy, depending on the circumstances.
What Western Medicine Gets Right (And Sometimes Wrong)
As a functional medicine practitioner, what I like about the western medicine approach is that it involves being proactive.
But here’s what I find frustrating…
It is estimated that only 5% of CIN-2 and 12% of CIN-3 cervical dysplasia cases will progress to invasive cancer if untreated.
And, in general, it takes 10 to 20 years for abnormal cells to progress to cancer, and that progression requires persistent HPV infection to occur.
That means that even if you have abnormal cells, you have a LOT of time to address it before cancer becomes a serious concern.
Secondly, the LEEP procedure is not without risk. While some have only minor bleeding and no other side effects, all of the following have been reported after one or more LEEP procedures:
- Miscarriages – Per one study from 2015, in 116 women studied, an 18% increased risk of miscarriage was reported among those previously treated with LEEP. A different study cited a positive association with second trimester miscarriage.
- Cervical stenosis – narrowing of the cervix, which can make getting pregnant difficult or cause problems with passage of fluids like menstrual blood.
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Pain during sex
- Inability to orgasm, low libido, loss of sensation in vagina, cervix, or clitoris
- PTSD – a form of sexual trauma experienced that stays traumatizing when thinking or talking about the procedure.
And while there is a *hope* that the LEEP procedure will help your body identify and fight the HPV as a side effect… western treatment does nothing to address the root cause of the abnormal cells: the HPV infection!
And that’s where the functional medicine approach really shines.
The Functional Medicine Approach to HPV Treatment
No matter what stage of HPV you’re dealing with – from just a positive test result to CIN-3 cells – the very first step should be taking proactive steps to support your immune system in fighting HPV itself.
Remember that most people are able to clear the HPV virus without intervention. If you’re not, here are the red flags I look for:
- Low nutrient status
- Poor sleep
- Stress or poor stress management
- Genetic predisposition
- Other chronic infections
Together, all these factors can lead to low immune expression and a susceptibility to chronic viral infections of all types.
But the good news is that the majority of these factors are modifiable.
That means, with the right support, you might be able to shift from someone who isn’t able to clear HPV on your own, to someone who is.
And on top of this, we can also use antiviral protocols to give your body a leg up in fighting the infection.
A healthy immune system should be able to handle HPV all on its own – so the approach that makes the most sense is to treat your immune system, and then let your body get rid of the HPV and heal the abnormal cells.
No matter where you are in the process – from just finding out to having already completed one or more LEEPs – this approach can help.
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share my HPV treatment plan and a case study of one of my real patients who reversed abnormal cells and HPV using this approach. Read Part 2 here.
PS – ready for help with HPV? You don’t have to wait for Part 2. Book a free intro consultation with my team today to get started on your customized treatment plan. Book your intro call here.