Vaginal Microbiome and Its Relationship to Cervical Cancer

Ellie Diamond
Ellie Diamond
November 2, 2023
5
min read
Medically reviewed by:
Joseph Bannon, D.O.
Vaginal Microbiome and Its Relationship to Cervical Cancer

It’s common not to think about cervical health outside your routine gynecologist appointment. The cervix is an internal organ that connects the bottom of the uterus to the vagina, so it’s out of sight and often out of mind. However, cervical cancer is a serious issue that causes an estimated 300,000 deaths worldwide each year. It’s the fourth most prevalent cancer for women, with around 570,000 new cases diagnosed annually [1].

Healthcare providers frequently use pap smears to screen women for cervical cancer and catch abnormal cells before they develop into malignant tumors [2]. But new research suggests that maintaining the health of your vaginal microbiome can also help fight and potentially even prevent cervical cancer.

Research suggests that maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiome is the first line of defense against cervical cancer [6].

Understanding HPV: The Root Cause of Cervical Cancer

Before we dive into the association between cervical cancer and microbiota, it’s important to understand how this disease develops. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that cause approximately 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. More than 70% of sexually active men and women will get infected by HPV during their lifetime [2]. High-risk HPV is asymptomatic, so you won’t know if you have it unless you get tested [3].

Around 90% of HPV infections go away without treatment within two years, and many people with HPV never develop cancer [2]. However, this condition can have lasting effects on many parts of your reproductive system, including your cervical tissues and vaginal microbiome. The progression from HPV to cervical cancer varies but typically occurs over 10 to 12 years and follows these stages [4]:

  • Infection of the Cervix: The virus infects cells in the membranes lining the inner canal and outer surface of the cervix.
  • Cell Disruption: The HPV infection disrupts the normal growth cycle of cervical cells and alters their genetic makeup. Some of these cells start dividing uncontrollably.
  • Abnormal Cell Growth: Some of the newly infected cells may have abnormalities. Over time, these abnormal cells can transform into precancerous lesions and then progress into cervical cancer.

The Relationship Between HPV, Cervical Cancer, and the Vaginal Microbiome

Along with infecting cells, HPV wreaks havoc on your cervicovaginal microbiota. Studies indicate that HIV-positive women have different vaginal microbiota than women without this disease. That’s because this virus destroys the helpful bacteria in your reproductive system and allows abnormal flora to colonize it. As a result, your vaginal microecosystem can get thrown out of balance [5].

This disruption can have serious implications for your health. Women with healthy vaginal flora produce Lactobacillus, a genus of helpful bacteria. Lactobacillus fights malignant cells by [5]:

  • Triggering the immune system to release antitumor compounds, such as extracellular polysaccharides
  • Preventing aggressive pathogenic bacteria from adhering to vaginal tissues
  • Increasing HPV clearance
  • Improving the function of natural killer cells, a kind of white blood cell

HPV reduces the number of Lactobacillus and other good bacteria in your reproductive tract, weakening your body’s natural defense system. This disruption of your vaginal microbiota can leave you more vulnerable to cervical cancer and other disorders [5].

Vaginal flora, which comprises beneficial bacteria, not only supports vaginal health but also combats pathogens responsible for infections such as bacterial vaginosis, inhibits the growth of malignant cells, and can even target and destroy cervical cancer cells [5].

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Strategies To Promote a Healthy Vaginal Microbiome

There’s no foolproof way to prevent cervical cancer. However, there are several methods you can use to support vaginal health and potentially decrease your risk of developing this serious disease.

Numerous studies indicate that taking oral probiotics with Lactobacilli is one of the most effective ways to promote well-being. In addition to killing cervical cancer cells, this bacteria enhances overall vaginal health by [5]:

  • Helping the vaginal environment maintain the proper level of acidity
  • Restoring and maintaining microbiota balance
  • Improving the performance of the protective epithelial cells that line the vagina

According to a 2019 study, higher amounts of cervicovaginal Lactobacillus are associated with lower rates of high-risk HPV infection and cervical cancer [6]. This bacteria can also help regulate other cancer cells, including breast, colorectal, gastric, and oral cancer [7].

Research shows a significant correlation between higher probiotic consumption and the reduction of cancer progression [5].

Additionally, some women take vitamins for pH balance. These over-the-counter pills typically contain probiotics and other supplements thought to support vaginal health, such as cranberry extract. These supplements may help prevent cervical cancer by maintaining a balanced vaginal environment and promoting the growth of good bacteria. However, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of vitamins for vaginal health.

Defend Against Cervical Cancer With Vaginal pH Test Strips

Research suggests that maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiome is the first line of defense against cervical cancer. pH balance pills with Lactobacilli can help restore and protect your delicate microflora.

You can also monitor your cervical and vaginal health in the privacy of your home with Vaginox pH test strips. These tests provide clinical-grade results at an affordable price. You can use this vaginal pH test to determine if you have an imbalance and might benefit from probiotics and other supplements.

Start monitoring your vaginal health by ordering a Vaginox kit today.

References

[1] S. Pimple and G. Mishra. “Cancer cervix: Epidemiology and disease burden,CytoJournal, vol. 19, no. 21, 2022.

[2] K. S. Okunade, “Human Papillomavirus and Cervical Cancer,Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, vol. 40, no. 5, pp. 602-608, 2021.

[3] National Cancer Institute Staff, “HPV and Cancer,” National Cancer Institute. [Accessed November 1, 2023].

[4] S. D. Balasubramaniam et al., “Key Molecular Events in Cervical Cancer Development,” Medicina, vol. 55, no. 7, p. 384, 2019.

[5] M. Zhaojun and D. Li, “The role of probiotics in vaginal health, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, vol. 12, 2022.

[6] S. Wang et al., “Associations of Cervicovaginal Lactobacilli With High-Risk Human Papillomavirus Infection, Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia, and Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,The Journal of Infectious Diseases, vol. 220, no. 8, pp. 1243-1254.  2019.

[7] X. Yang et al., “Role of Lactobacillus in cervical cancer,Cancer Management and Research, vol. 10, pp. 1219-1229, 2018.

About the Author
Ellie Diamond

Ellie Diamond is a freelance writer with a background in the arts and mental health. She received a BA from Emerson College and an MA in creative arts therapies from Lesley University. Using her work experience as a teacher and tutor, she has focused her writing on explaining complex topics to a lay audience. Those topics include personal health management and wellness.

About the Reviewer
This blog was
Medically reviewed by:
Joseph Bannon, D.O.

Dr. Bannon is a US-trained physician in the Midwestern United States with board certification in Family Medicine through the American Board of Osteopathic Family Physicians. He has experience in both inpatient and outpatient settings, with a focus on preventative medicine and primary prevention. A passion for delivering evidence based medicine to rural/underserved areas has been a driving force in his desire to contribute to the medical literature community.

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