Everyone knows blueberries are good for keeping your heart healthy, but a new study shows that eating blueberries could also help prevent cervical cancer. In a new study, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that blueberry extract can help boost the effectiveness of cervical cancer treatment.
Researchers explained that while radiation is one of the most common treatments for cervical cancer, the downside is that it not only destroys the abnormal cells — it also destroys the nearby healthy cells as well.
However, the study, published in Pathology and Oncoloy Research, describes how blueberry extract can act as a radiosensitizer — a non-toxic chemical that makes cancer cells more receptive to radiation therapy. Radiosensitizers have also been studied in conjunction with prostate cancer research.
What makes blueberries a super food with healing capabilities? Blueberries contain resveratrol, a radiosensitizer known for helping treat prostate cancer. Additionally, blueberries contain flavonoids, which are chemicals known to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. In this study, flavonoids were proven to increase cell death in conjunction with radiation treatment.
“Drugs have so many side effects. We want to go back to see if there are natural chemicals that help us cure or prevent disease,” said lead researcher, Dr. Yujiang Fang, M.D., Ph.D., academic pathologist and assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Des Moines University.
In the study, cells were broken up into four different groups. Results from the study showed that the group of cells that received only radiation saw a decrease in cancerous cells by 20 percent and the group that received only blueberry extract treatment saw a decrease by 25 percent.
However, the cells that received both radiation and blueberry extract saw a decrease of cancerous cells by almost 70 percent, showing that combining a radiosensitizer with traditional treatment methods can be extremely beneficial.
“Having blueberries before and during radiation could be beneficial, even for patients who do not receive radiation or have other cancers,” Fang said. “Blueberries not only have an anticancer effect, but also antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. It would be beneficial to even a healthy person.”
The researchers also determined in a separate study that red grapes have similar healing properties as blueberries.
While the number of cervical cancer diagnoses have dropped 50 percent in the last 40 years, the disease still effects almost 13,000 women a year, with about a third of those cases being deadly. Most doctors attribute the decline in cases with the increased awareness around Pap smear tests and the development of an HPV vaccine. Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer, with almost 90 percent of cervical cancer cases being linked to it.
While there is more research to be done, doctor’s hope that the use of blueberries in cancer treatments could be an inexpensive and accessible option to boost the effectiveness of radiation therapy.
Being diagnosed with cervical cancer is a scary and emotional situation for nearly 13,000 women every year. Women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer and may want to have children in the future face several concerns and questions about fertility. While HPV alone doesn’t have a huge impact on fertility, being treated for precancerous or cancerous cells can impact your fertility.
A cone biopsy or LLETZ (large loop excision of the transformation zone) is one form of treatment for early stages of cervical cancer. In this procedure, a small area of cervical tissue is removed. There is a small increase in having a premature baby or low-birthweight baby after these proceedings, but fertility is still intact.
Another form of treatment for early cervical cancer is a radical trachelectomy, which involves removing most of the cervix and the upper part of the vagina. This involves a permanent stitch around the cervix holding it closed. It is still possible to safely carry and deliver a baby, however a Caesarean section is required since the cervix is permanently stitched.
If cervical cancer is not caught early on, a hysterectomy may be required. During this procedure, all or part of the uterus is removed. This procedure would leave the woman fully infertile. However, receiving regular Pap smears can prevent the spread of precancerous cells and diagnose problems early.
Aside from surgical procedures, cancer treatment through radiation and chemotherapy are shown to have a negative effect on fertility.
However, there are ways to potentially preserve fertility before beginning treatments by having eggs frozen and removed. These eggs could later be used for surrogacy if a woman can no longer carry a baby on her own. While surrogacy is complex and expensive, it could be a solution to infertility because of cervical cancer treatments.
The good news is that many women who treat cervical cancer in its early stages can still get pregnant and carry a baby to term. However, for many women, these options are not available for the type of treatment they require and result in a loss of fertility.
Losing fertility can be extremely difficult to cope with, even if a woman was not planning on having children. Anger, grief and depression are all normal reactions to infertility. There are several support groups developed to help during this difficult time. Seeking the help of a trusted psychologist can also ease the emotional pain women feel after the loss of fertility.
It’s important to realize that a cervical cancer diagnoses is not automatically the end of fertility. Find a reputable healthcare provider who can go over options for treatment and how those treatments might affect the ability to get pregnant in the future.
In 2014, over 12,000 women in the United States were diagnosed with cervical cancer, a disease caused by the human papilloma virus. That same year, over 4,000 women died of cervical cancer. These women were mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends. They loved – and were loved – by many. Each woman had her own story. Could these women have been saved? Many of them, yes, and here’s how.
Cervical cancer is classified into stages by health care professionals; treatment is largely determined by these stages. Cervical cancer staging is based on how deep the cancer has grown into the cervix, if the cancer has spread into nearby organs, and if the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes or metastasized (spread) to organs which are farther away from the cervix – like the lungs.
That’s all a very technical way of saying, the more the cancer has grown, the more challenging it is to treat AND, more importantly, the earlier the cancer is detected, the higher our ability to cure it. That’s right. A cancer that can be cured.
When healthcare providers are aware of the presence of the human papilloma virus in patients, cervical cancer is in its earliest stage (technically referred to as “Stage 0”) can be detected, the cancer has grown only on the surface of the cervix. At this stage, cervical cancer is treated by removing just the part of the cervix effected by cancer. When treated at this stage, 93% of women will be cured, that is, still alive for at least five years after treatment.
As cervical cancer progresses, the survival rate, or cure rate, declines. In the most advanced stage of cervical cancer, when it has spread to the lungs and bones, the cancer is considered to be incurable. During the intervening stages, treatment might include removing all or part of the cervix, hysterectomy, chemotherapy and/or radiation.
That’s how individual cervical cancer can be cured. Let’s talk about how we cure the world of cervical cancer, and more than one woman at a time. The world is too big, and life it too short for that.
Almost all cervical cancer is caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus, or “HPV” for short. Not all types of HPV increase the risk of cervical cancer, and not all women who have HPV will go on to develop cervical cancer. We do know HPV is THE cervical cancer culprit. We have the tools to detect HPV and, better yet we have the tools to prevent it – by vaccinating children against HPV before they start engaging in sexual activity.
If you think it’s hard to talk with your child about sex and cancer – undoubtedly hefty topics – think about how hard it would be to explain to your child why you didn’t prevent her cancer back when you had the chance.