Not everyone has one, but it can remain quite a mystery for those who do.
Get to Know Your Cervical Health:
The cervix is a doughnut-shaped internal organ located between the vagina and the uterus. It naturally has a small hole in the center, only large enough to allow menstrual blood and semen to pass through it. This organ acts as a barrier protecting the uterus, which is why tampons and other vaginally penetrative objects are unable to travel to other parts of the body. The opening of the cervix expands during a vaginal childbirth delivery allowing the baby to pass through and then return to its original size after delivery.
Like other internal organs, the cervix isn’t easily viewed, so it’s important we know how to take care of it!
What’s Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a disease involving the growth of cancerous cells in the cervix and, if detected early, is one of the most treatable forms of cancer.
Typically, it develops over time and can be detected through routine pap testing (pap smears). Pap tests are a regular part of reproduction health exams and screen for precancerous and cancerous cells by sampling cervical cells. Usually, pap testing is recommended at least once every three years for those over 21 who have a cervix unless instructed otherwise by a medical provider.
What’s HPV Have to do with it?
Ninety-nine percent of all cervical cancers can be traced back to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI); so common in fact that an estimated 1 in 4 people in the US currently live with the virus. In most cases, those with HPV have a strong enough immune system to stop the progression of the infection, so it does not develop into cervical cancer. However, in some cases, the virus prevails, and abnormal cells begin to grow, which can become cancerous.
In addition to taking steps to reduce your overall risk of STIs, there is a preventative vaccine for HPV called Gardasil, which reduces the likelihood of a person developing cervical cancer.
It’s important to know that Gardasil is recommended for EVERYONE!
People without cervixes are still able to transmit the virus even if they can’t develop cervical cancer, so we all need to take responsibility for stopping the spread of HPV. Current guidelines recommend routine HPV vaccination starting at age 11 or 12 but also include anyone as young as nine up to age 45 who may not have been vaccinated when they were younger.
What are the Common Symptoms?
Many symptoms of cervical cancer are also signs of other medical conditions, so it’s important to contact a medical provider if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Pelvic pain when not menstruating
- Abnormal bleeding- between the menstrual cycle and after sex
- Painful, more frequent urination
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
Routine pap and STI testing, in addition to the vaccine, all help to ensure our cervical health by stopping or slowing the transmission of HPV, which is the cause of 99% of all cervical cancers.
Take control of your health today by making an appointment with a medical provider!