I need to start this blog post with a huge word of caution: I am not a medical professional. I very strongly suggest you follow the advice of medical professionals. What I’m talking about in this blog post shouldn’t be followed instead of following medical advice. If your gynecologist or doctor or nurse tells you I’m talking nonsense, listen to them: the medically trained expert, not me: a stranger on the internet. I followed the advice of the medical professionals who were assigned to my case at all times, I just did some things in addition.
Did you read that title?! It sounds like I’m bullshitting, doesn’t it? If I saw that headline in a blog post, I’d think the author was talking absolute nonsense. To be honest, when I started down this route I never thought it would work so thoroughly well. But here I am. I was in two minds about whether to write this post at all, because what I really don’t want to do is encourage people to think they can treat themselves, and that they don’t need medical treatment. On the other hand, I felt a duty to share my story, just in case it could help someone. It’d be selfish not to. But please, please, take this with a pinch of salt and always follow medical advice.
Back in August 2017 I published this blog post about my first experience of a cervical screening. Have a read of it for a detailed history of my case. Basically, it was found that I have high risk HPV (one of the strains that had been related to the development of cervical cancer) and a colposcopy revealed an area of CIN 3 grade pre cancerous changes in my cervix. I was all booked in to have these abnormal cells removed via a LLETZ Diathermy.
What happened in between getting my results of my smear and the LLETZ appointment is the interesting bit. I have a PhD in Psychology, and some knowledge of medical research. I knew I had HPV. I knew there was no cure for HPV. I guessed that there were scientists somewhere researching how to get rid of HPV. I was correct.
I delved into academic papers trying to find something I could use, and I stumbled upon something interesting. Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) is a mushroom extract which is being researched for its ability to help the immune system. There is one research group in Houston, Texas who have used AHCC to treat HPV. The idea is that it boasts your immune system, giving it the kick it needs to fight off the HP virus. Here’s a press article about it, here’s an abstract from an international cancer prevention conference about it, here’s the another abstract from a different conference presentation about it. The problem I have with this study is that I can’t seem to find a full article about it published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, when the research was presented back in 2014. This made me dubious. However, I didn’t think taking a mushroom extract would hurt me, and there was some evidence that it could get rid of my HPV. It was worth a shot, right?
I couldn’t find AHCC in my local health food shop, so I went to that internet giant that stocks bloody everything, and I purchased this AHCC:
I’m telling you the exact product that I used because I know that the dosage and quality of these kinds of supplements greatly vary from product to product. I just took two tablets a day for about a month (the time between my first colposcopy and my LLETZ appointment). They didn’t have any side effects that I was aware of, and I could just swallow them whole with water, so they didn’t have any particular taste. I was taking them casually, with an attitude of “it’s not hurting me and it might help me”.
I was all rallied up to have my LLETZ loop treatment. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to have part of my cervix removed, but I was ready for it and very happy that I was receiving a treatment that could prevent me from developing cancer. I went back to see the same gynecologist as I saw in my original visit. She explained the procedure to me, and the risks involved, including how it could affect pregnancy. Then she set up the colposcopy equipment and viewed my cervix in exactly the same way as before. The only difference was this time the screen was facing away from me; which I appreciated as I didn’t really want to see what was happening to my cervix during the procedure.
Five or so minutes passed with this cold speculum uncomfortably holding my vagina open. I didn’t really know what was going on, but I thought they must be waiting for the solution to develop fully, to see how big of an area they need to remove. Eventually, the gynecologist said, in a rather confused manner, that my results were clear. The solution was not showing any areas of abnormality anymore. She flipped the screen to show me; no white patches, no spikes on the graph this time. I was momentarily confused too, I didn’t really know what to think until she confirmed that I did not need the LLETZ.
Once I’d had the speculum removed and I had dressed, the gynecologist told me her plan for my case. She was concerned that, given the degree of the abnormalities revealed by the biopsy, that only the surface cells of the cervix were back to normal, and that deeper cells may still be abnormal. She suggested that we leave it for two months, then she will do a repeat colposcopy and smear. The smear would be more advanced, taking cells from the neck of the womb as well as my cervix. To be honest with you, I was so happy I felt almost high, and gleefully agreed to her plan.
For the first month I continued to take the AHCC, but I reduced my dose to only one tablet a day, then I stopped taking them all together. One reason for stopping was that I thought I might be pregnant and I didn’t want to take anything that hasn’t been approved for pregnancy. The second reason was it’s an expensive supplement and I have a very low income. I struggle to pay my bills, mushroom pills are an expense I couldn’t continue to justify.
At the beginning of December I was back in the colposcopy chair once again. It was a different gynecologist than before, but my experience was much the same. She chose not to show me my cervix on the screen, I guess each has their own style, but I was happy not to see it. Ten minutes after the speculum was inserted it was being removed again. She told me my colposcopy still looked fully clear, and that she had taken cells “from all angles” to test in the lab. She said she would write to me with the results.
Four weeks later, and the results have finally arrived. They stated that no abnormal cells were found, and I tested negative for HPV. I was so happy I almost cried. The letter said I would be discharged back to my GP and that I will be invited for a routine smear in 3 years time, as normal. What an end to this story!
I just want to finish off with yet more words of caution. I will never know for sure if it was the mushroom pills that truly helped my body to get rid of the HPV. It might just be a weird coincidence. HPV is a virus (that’s what the “V” stands for), just like a common cold is a virus, and the flu is a virus. The only way to get rid of it is your body’s immune system fighting it off. Perhaps my body just got it’s fucking act together and killed HPV without any mushroom-based help? The other factor that may be important for my abnormal cells disappearing could be the punch biopsies taken at my first colposcopy. Perhaps by injuring the abnormal tissue in this way it promotes healing, and the new cells happened not to be abnormal. I might be talking bollocks though, my biology knowledge isn’t very detailed. The main point here is that I can’t say for sure that the AHCC did anything at all. But it didn’t hurt.
I really hope that far more research is done into getting rid of HPV once you have it. It’d be a great thing for reducing cervical cancer. The fact that a HPV vaccine now exists is a great step in the right direction.
I’ll end this happy tale by once again reminding you to follow the advise of medical professionals over strangers on the internet. I am aware that medical professionals can sometimes be awful people, or bad at their job, or give you outdated advice. If you think this has happened, ask for a second opinion from another medical professional.
Always go to your smear test or cervical screening appointment. They’re important.