Dear Pharmacist: My daughter has cervical dysplasia, and I'm wondering whether the HPV vaccine will protect her from getting cancer. Will it? How can a young woman protect against this cancer? -- J.D., Silver Springs, Fla.
No, it's never been proven to prevent cancer. The HPV vaccine Gardasil protects against 2 strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), but there are about 40 strains that can be sexually transmitted. I couldn't possibly know what your daughter has been infected with, or if she has been infected at all. You don't have to have HPV to have dysplasia, that is a big surprise to most people! The commercials for vaccines have convinced almost everyone that cervical dysplasia is caused by a virus, the HPV virus, but other situations can cause it, too.
I didn't vaccinate my daughter when she was of age. Some women don't get any side effects while others react profoundly, with life-threatening reactions. From the Gardasil website, "The side effects include pain, swelling, itching, bruising, and redness at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and fainting. Fainting can happen after getting Gardasil. Sometimes people who faint can fall and hurt themselves. For this reason, your child's health care professional may ask to sit or lie down for 15 minutes after they get Gardasil. Some people who faint might shake or become stiff."
Cervical dysplasia means there is extra cell growth in the cervical tissue, but it doesn't necessarily progress to cancer. In fact, most of the time it does not. The risk factors that could cause it to progress to cancer faster include having multiple sexual partners, long-term use of oral contraceptives, drinking alcohol, smoking, eating poorly, having unprotected sex, and low immunity. One other factor is huge, but rarely discussed, and that includes a methylation defect, which has to do with B vitamins.
Many doctors use the "wait and see" approach if a woman gets an abnormal pap. I strongly disagree because the virus is present and already causing abnormal cell growth in the cervix. This is precisely the time to step in and do something to reduce your risk of cancer. You have many treatment options, medications and procedures, even simple things. For example, folate and B12 status can be determined and corrected. Stop smoking/drinking, evaluate vitamin A status because low serum retinol levels are linked to cervical cancer. One study found that broccoli extract "indole 3-carbinol" could cause regression of cervical dysplasia.