Can blueberries help reduce your risk of this deadly cancer?

Can blueberries help reduce your risk of this deadly cancer?

Did you know cervical cancer was once one of the most common types of cancers that led to cancer deaths for women in the U.S.?

The death rate for this type of cancer has dropped significantly with increased education and use of the pap smear test.

Nevertheless, the American Cancer Society still estimates over 13,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year, and over 4,000 women will die as a result.

For women who have been diagnosed, new research offers hope for a potential new treatment option.

Researchers, whose study was recently published in the journal Pathology and Oncology Research, examined the efficacy of adding blueberry extract to radiation therapy, the primary treatment option for women with cervical cancer.

They hypothesized that the extract could serve as a radiosensitizer so that the radiation was more effective. Their findings supported that conclusion.

When looking at human cancer cells that were treated with radiation therapy alone, the cancer cells were reduced by 20 percent. When treated with blueberry extract alone, there was a 25 percent reduction.

But when the blueberry extract was used in combination with radiation therapy, the cancer cells were reduced by 70 percent.

“Cancer cells avoid death by remodeling themselves,” said lead author Dr. Yujiang Fang, in a release. “Along with reducing cell proliferation, the extract also ‘tricks’ cancer cells into dying. So it inhibits the birth and promotes the death of cancer cells.”

Experts say further studies are needed to test the practical significance of the study’s results.

“The study is intriguing,” says Dr. Addie Alkhas, a gynecological oncologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“Certainly, cisplatin and 5FU chemotherapy agents used in combination with radiation have shown to have beneficial effects in the treatment of cervical cancer. But it’s important to note this study was done in a lab. The practical, clinical significance of the results remain to be seen, and the question of how blueberry extract will be given to patients, if in fact the results are replicated and proven, still needs to be determined. For example, would they be placed as a drug and given through an IV, or would they be ingested or applied via a topical treatment, and do all methods produce the same results? Until these questions are answered, I would be very careful about providing cervical cancer patients with a false sense of hope about the potential impact of blueberries on their treatment.”

Want to reduce your risk for cervical cancer?

Dr. Alkhas offers the following recommendations:

  • Participate in regular check-ups with your physician. Even though a previous normal pap smear may mean you won’t need to be screened for cancer each year, a regular check-up is still recommended.
  • Get the HPV vaccine if you are 26 years old or younger and before initiating sexual relations – the vaccine won’t protect against all strains, but has shown to be effective against some known cancer-causing strains. Dr. Alkhas recommends it to all his patients and their partners who are in the above age group. Young boys can be treated with the vaccine, as well.
  • Let your physician know if there is a change in your bleeding pattern or if you notice unusual vaginal discharge.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking has been linked to the persistence of the HPV virus, and stopping smoking can help clear the virus from one’s system.

“Don’t be afraid to speak to your OB/GYN about these recommendations and educate yourself about cervical cancer,” he adds. “One of the hallmarks of cervical cancer is non-menstrual bleeding, bleeding after intercourse, foul odor or discharge. Patients who have routine OB/GYN exams and pap smears can usually catch these symptoms before they become dangerous.”

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About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is a former manager, media relations at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.