It’s cervical health awareness month, so gather ‘round girls and guys, to learn about why your cervix is important and why you need to keep it healthy.
The cervix is: The lower, narrow end of the uterus that forms a canal between the uterus and vagina.
What it does: Part of the lining of the cervix contains glands that make and release mucus. For most of the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy, the mucus is thick and stops sperm from entering the uterus. The thick mucus also helps to protect the uterus and the upper female reproductive organs from harmful bacteria.
During pregnancy: During childbirth, the cervix widens (dilates), allowing the baby to pass through the birth canal.
Now, there’s a lot more regarding the cervix that involves endocervix, ectocervix, glandular and squamous cells, but you can open up Google and discover the biology on your own. (I never liked biology.) I want to talk about why it’s important to keep your cervix healthy and why. Let’s start with HPV.
HPV: Human Papillomavirus
HPV is an infection that causes warts in various parts of the body depending on the strain. It’s an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) and one of the most common. You can be symptom free but still infect others through sexual contact and there is no cure. The warts may go away misleading you to believe you are cured when you aren’t. Treatment may include removing the warts by your healthcare professional or with prescription medication. In most cases (9 out of 10), HPV goes away on its own within two years without any additional problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause problems like genital warts and cancer. HPV can cause cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat (oropharyngeal cancer) and this can include the base of the tongue and tonsils. It can take years and even decades for cancer to develop in people infected with HPV. Genital warts and cancers result from different types of HPV.
According to the National Cancer Society statistics for 2022, about 4,280 women will die from cervical cancer and about 14,100 new cases of invasive cancer will be diagnosed. It used to be much worse; cervical cancer was at one time the leading cancer killer of women. Pretty self-explanatory, cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. It starts in the cells lining the cervix — the lower part of the uterus (womb). Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. It can be caused by certain types of HPV which is spread through sexual contact. The main types of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. But you can prevent cervical cancer by getting screened before you show symptoms. Screenings can help find abnormal cells or signs of HPV before they turn into cancer.
When to Get a Pap Smear:
Many women are unclear about when they should get a pap smear. According to most doctors, most young women should start at age 21. However, is you are younger than 21 and sexually active or experiencing any reproductive health concerns, you should speak to an experienced gynecologist sooner. In part, the reason for the confusion in women is that pap smears are thought to be only for those who are sexually active, when the pap smear is to collect cells from the cervix and screen for abnormal cells. Sexual intercourse does increase a woman’s risk of exposure to HPV, which is the cause of nearly all cervical cancer and why women who are sexually active should be vigilant about getting tested. The Pap smear can also help protect sexually inactive women who have a family history of it.
Tips for a Happy Cervix:
- Condoms: Use them. They protect your cervix and body from STD’s including HPV.
- Get a Pap Smear: And follow up!
- If you are able to: Get the HPV vaccine.
Message to Leave Here with:
Don’t be scared, be proactive. Take initiative with your health and make sure your girlfriends are taking care of their bodies. Cancer is vicious and this is one of those cancers that can be preventable if you maintain your health.
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