The composition of bacteria in the vagina could be an important factor in the development of cervical cancer, according to a recent study.
Infection with some particular strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) is a well-known risk for cervical cancer.
However, researchers at the University of Arizona in Phoenix suggest that other factors may also be relevant because of their influence on the condition of the cervix.
A paper now published in the journal Scientific Reports describes how they found that women with cancer or precancer of the cervix had different vaginal bacteria to women who did not have cervical tissue abnormalities.
The finding suggests that there might be a direct link between “good” bacteria and a healthy cervix, and “bad” bacteria and raised risk for cervical cancer.
“In cancer and precancer patients,” explains senior study author Melissa M. Herbst-Kralovetz, who is an associate professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona, “lactobacilli — good bacteria — are replaced by a mixture of bad bacteria.”
Cervical cancer and HPV
Cervical cancer starts when cells in the cervix, or the entrance to the uterus from the vagina, grow abnormally and become a tumor.
The presence of abnormal cells is known as precancer. If the abnormal cells become cancer cells and spread into neighboring tissue, it becomes cervical cancer.
Precancerous tissue should “be removed” to prevent cancer. This can normally be done without harming unaffected tissue.
Estimates for the United States suggest that, “at some point during their lifetime,” approximately 0.6 percent of women will be told that they have cervical cancer.
New cases of cervical cancer in the U.S. dropped by at least 50 percent in 1975–2010 and statistics for 2008–2014 show that more than 66 percent of women survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis.
HPV spreads through “intimate skin-to-skin contact,” such as during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. There are more than 150 types of HPV, of which only some can give rise to cancer in men and women.
Usually, the immune system can clear the virus without causing any harm. But if the virus persists, it can cause genital warts and cancer.
In both sexes, HPVs can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, anus, and rectum. In men, they can also cause cancer of the penis. In women, HPVs can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva.
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