Cervical Health Awareness Month is acknowledged on the last day of January this year. Did you know that according to CDC cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide? It is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. (Prevent Cervical Cancer, 2011)
When you think about reproductive and sexual health most of the time the cervix is not mentioned only when going through pregnancy and childbirth. You may read about the vagina, labia, and ovaries but the cervix rarely gets the attention it needs. Even when referring to the cervix people have described the cervix by saying vagina as an umbrella term or even when describing other parts of the female reproductive system which could also cause confusion. The cervix plays a significant role in reproducing. It acts as an entryway for the sperm to travel to the uterus for fertilization.
However, it has other useful mechanisms to keep you healthy and have a healthy safe pregnancy. It also serves as a protective barrier to ensure nothing enters the uterus and supports the developing fetus until it is time for birth. Sexual health is important when it comes to the cervix because it is prone to contracting the HPV virus that can mutate normal cells to abnormal cells and potentially develop into cervical cancer. The HPV virus or Human Papillomavirus also causes warts. This virus can be transmitted through vaginal penetration, anal and oral sex.
There are many strains of this virus and is known as the most common sexually transmitted disease. Generally, a woman’s body will clear the HPV from her system quickly, but this is not always the case. Some people who contract the virus may not be aware they have it and go asymptomatic for months and even years. (Fayed, 2020)
The cervix is also vulnerable to other health conditions including dysplasia, inflammation, myomas, and polyps. To have a better understanding of the cervix you also need to know the anatomy of it specifically to determine the certain tests that are needed for preventative measures. Your OBGYN will be able to explain in depth why such a test is needed, further describe the anatomy and purpose. Below is a brief description of what the anatomy of the cervix entails according to verywellhealth.com
- Endocervical Canal: The space in the center of the tube of tissue that is the cervix.
- Ectocervix: This is the lower part of the cervix that protrudes into the vagina.
- Internal Os: This section of cervix is closest to the uterus.
- External Os: This is the opening of the ectocervix.
- Transformation Zone: Also known as the “TZ” for short. This is the area of the cervix where cervical dysplasia commonly occurs. (Fayed, 2020)
In conclusion, the cervix serves an important purpose that aids in bringing and supporting life to flourish after birth. To aid in maintaining a healthy cervix, healthy sexual function, and future pregnancy below is a list of measures to start incorporating in your preventative care.
9 Cervical Health tips
- Schedule a pap smear once becoming sexually active. If not sexually active by age 21 a pap smear screening should be initiated.
- HPV Test
- Reframe from smoking. The chemicals in smoking can weaken the immune system and hinder its ability to fight off cancer cells which will then aid in increased growth of cancerous cells.
- Practice safe sex
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Communicate with potential partners about having multiple partners and if they practice safe sex. If not utilizing protection get tested and have sex with one partner and ensuring your partner is only active with you.
- If you experience pain during and after sexual intercourse and abnormal bleeding or discharge, see your OBGYN
- Parents with children should consider getting their child vaccinated (Gardasil). According to American Cancer society children can get the Gardasil vaccine as early as 9.
- Learn if you are at increased risk of cervical cancer based on any preexisting medical conditions or unwanted exposures. This can help navigate preventative care, frequency in getting screened and identfying specific screenings. For example, individuals who are immunosuppressed because of HIV, patients who are solid organ or stem cell transplantation recipients or are undergoing immunosuppressant therapy, and individuals with a cervix who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol in utero are at greatly increased risk of developing clear cell adenocarcinoma of the lower genital tract. (CA: A Cancer Journal For Clinicians, 2020)
CA: A Cancer Journal For Clinicians. (2020). Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk: 2020 guideline update from the American Cancer Society. ACS Journal, 321-345.
Fayed, L. (2020, August 12). How to have a Healthy Cervix. Retrieved from VeryWell Healthy: http://verywellhealth.com
Prevent Cervical Cancer. (2011, January 11). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/features/cervical-cancer/
Kiss & Tell Magazine discusses sexual health, as well as many other topics, focused on sex. Support us by becoming a subscriber, subscribers get their voices heard by guiding our content.
Help us keep the conversation going…click one of the buttons below or copy the link.