Cervical health has, as of late, received quite a lot of attention due to the strides being made in the prevention of cervical cancer. But what is the cervix truly responsible for in the female body? And do women truly care about it? According to the results of a survey, women actually do care a lot about cervical health – nearly 9 in 10 women stated that having a healthy cervix is as important to them as having healthy breasts.
The survey also showed that more than half of the women believed that having a healthy cervix was part of what made them feel like a woman.
The moment women begin to realize the important role that the cervix plays in the female body and how it contributes to their overall well-being, they will start taking the steps required to ensure its health. This includes getting regular pap smears to keep their cervix healthy. Shaped like an upside-down pear, the cervix is the bottom part of a woman’s uterus where it opens into the vaginal cavity. Here are a few things you should know about ensuring your cervical health:
7 Reasons for You to be Aware of Your Cervix
The cervix plays a few extremely important roles in the female body. A few of the key functions that are managed by the cervix are inclusive of:
- Allowing the passage of menstrual fluid
- Promoting and enhancing a woman’s fertility
- Protecting the uterus, upper reproductive tract and a developing fetus from pathogens
- Playing a fairly possible role in women’s sexual pleasure
This shows just how important the cervix is for a woman’s reproductive health – this is also why it’s necessary for women to keep it healthy at all times. However, in doing so, it’s also necessary for women to understand its health threats.
You may already know about HPV and how it’s related to the onset of cervical cancer, but what you may not understand is that there are many other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that also pose a risk to cervical health. In order to ensure the overall well-being of your cervix, it’s necessary for you to avoid contracting these sexually transmitted infections as these can seriously tarnish your cervical health.
What sexually transmitted infections do I need to stay safe against?
There are quite a few sexually transmitted infections that you need to protect yourself against in order to maintain your cervical health. These include chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV, all of which are terribly bad news for the cervix. Why so? For the simple reason that the cervix acts as the primary site of infection. Remember, undetected gonorrhea or chlamydia has the potential to trigger long-term reproductive health problems, some as serious as infertility.
6 The Cervix, Fertility and Pregnancy
The cervix is known to change its size, texture and location all through the menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels rise just before ovulation which makes the cervix swell and soften and its exterior dilates a little so that sperm can easily access the uterus. During this time, the cervix also goes on to secrete slippery, stretchy and clear mucus that exudes from the cervix straight into the vagina.
This mucus is fertile and assists in making it possible for sperm to travel into the uterus through the vagina. The same mucus is also responsible for keeping sperm alive for up to five days. However, once ovulation is passed, the release of the hormone progesterone makes the cervix harden, close and secrete thicker and opaque or cloudy mucus which is meant to act as a plug to prevent sperm and bacteria from entering the uterus.
You should also know that the presence of this thick mucus makes it just about impossible for fertilization to occur. It is fairly possible for women interested in getting pregnant to track all these changes in their cervical mucus to determine when intercourse would most probably result in fertilization.
A few more details
The same changes in mucus can also be noticed by women who wish to prevent pregnancy to determine the days during their cycle on which they should either refrain from having sex or use birth control to prevent pregnancy.
When a woman becomes pregnant, the hormone progestin will move on to create higher amounts of the thick mucus which acts as a plug and prevents any bacteria or pathogens from entering the uterus, thus protecting the health of the developing fetus. A firm, closed cervix also holds the developing fetus in the uterus until it reaches full term.
In cases where labor is induced, it’s necessary for the cervix to be softened prior to the actual initiation of labor. If this is not done, there is a good chance that a C-section will have to be performed as well as potentially serious complications for the woman.
5 Diseases and the Cervix
Cervical infections or diseases are typically caused due to the acquisition of a sexually transmitted infection. There are certain structural and biological factors that deem various parts of the cervix more or less susceptible to certain STIs than others. For instance, research into the columnar epithelial cells that are found in the endocervix along with some parts of the ectocervix have been found to be the most vulnerable to chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Studies have long shown that the cervix is the primary site of HIV infection for women, which deems it even more important for them to pay attention to their cervical health. The STI that is known to have the most impact on the cervix is the HPV or the Human Papillomavirus. Just so you know, HPV has been found to be the most common sexually transmitted viral infection in the USA.
To present a few rough statistics, nearly 75% of the adult male and female population in the USA has at one point in time been exposed to HPV.
The dangers of HPV
Although HPV infections tend to heal on their own, in case the infection persists and doesn’t heal, it can lead to the development of precancerous cells in the cervix. In case these precancerous cells remain undetected and untreated, they will progress to cancerous cells within the cervix. For the record, nearly 100% of all cases of cervical cancer arise from previous exposure to specific strains of HPV.
And if you’re not aware, cervical cancer is known to cause nearly 270,000 deaths in the world each year – pay attention to your cervical health.
4 Maintaining Cervical Health
Maintaining cervical health is not as hard as many would imagine. Although the HPV vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix are the most commonly used methods of prevention against cervical cancer and maintaining cervical health, there is yet another way of ensuring that your cervix is healthy at all times – the Pap test or Pap smear. Believe it or not, but the introduction of the Pap smear has reduced the rates of deaths from cervical cancer by a full 74%.
There remains the fact that the Pap smear is not 100% foolproof as it comes with its share of false negative and false positive readings. However, this in no way implies that we should overlook the benefits that it has to offer as a screening tool. It is because of these benefits that it is recommended by experts for women to start getting the pap test from age 18-21 onwards on a yearly basis. Apart from that, it is also necessary for them to visit their gynecologist on a yearly basis too.
Remember, maintaining your cervical health isn’t solely dependent on going to your gynecologist or finding out whether you have HPV or not. Getting tested every year for STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV is also extremely important in terms of ensuring cervical health.
Details on Chlamydia
Chlamydia is on the rise and is one of the most common STIs that one could contract. Considering its association with cervical cancer, it’s necessary for you to maintain your cervical health. Use your knowledge to enlighten other women about this fact as well. Spread the word!
3 How Are Cervical Diseases Detected and How Can They Be Treated?
A lot of effort has lately been made to reduce the incidence as well as morbidity associated with cervical cancer. One of the most important steps taken in the detection of cervical diseases is that of the Pap smear the amazing screening tool. With its widespread utilization, the numbers of deaths attributed to cervical cancer have steadily gone down. However, there remains the fact that the Pap test is not 100% effective in terms of detecting the presence of precancerous changes occurring within the vagina.
At times, a Pap smear result may inaccurately show abnormal cell growth even when the cervix is healthy. Other times, it may even fail to detect abnormal cell growth with false results ranging between 5-30%. In such a case, it’s necessary for your health care provider to perform a colposcopy – a procedure in which a special microscope is used to visually examine the cervix and detect abnormalities.
What about prevention?
There are vaccines available now that are meant to prevent women from contracting the HPV infection. Although these are a fairly new product on the market, it’s highly recommended for you to speak to your doctor about them. There’s also a DNA test for HPV that has the potential to detect the 13 high risk types of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer.
This particular HPV test is performed on women age 30 and above in concurrence with their annual pap test. In women under 30, this test is only used in case the results of their Pap smear is inconclusive.
2 Promoting Cervical Health
Women can take a few actions to promote the health of their cervix other than diagnostic testing like Pap smears and HPV DNA tests. The first being they need to make sure they don’t contract an STI. Some of the most proven methods for reducing the risk of infection with HIV, HPV and other STIs include the utilization of condoms, limiting the number of sexual partners or even practicing abstinence.
However, considering that most women aren’t always in the position to refrain from sex or negotiate over the usage of condoms with their partners, experts have examined the efficiency of other barrier methods including cervical caps and diaphragms as well so as to reduce STI transmission.
Although preliminary results have suggested that these methods also have the potential to reduce transmission, it’s necessary for more research to be conducted to acquire conclusive evidence in this regard.
Other methods of ensuring cervical health
According to statistics, nearly 27% of all American women between the ages of 15 and 44 douche on a regular basis – and douching has long been associated with increased rates of STIs and upper cervical infections due to the changes it triggers in the vaginal chemical balance.
In order to maintain a healthy vagina, experts suggest that women should also practice self-examination. This would basically assist them in learning what their cervix looks like when it is healthy so that they can take note of any changes that may occur in the future. But remember, self-examination is not a substitute for your yearly visits to the gynecologist, so don’t overlook those just because you believe your cervix is healthy.
1 Details About Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is basically cancer that starts within the cervix. It’s triggered when the body’s cervical cells start dividing rather abruptly and grow somewhat out of control. Because of these extra cells, a tumor forms. According to statistics, nearly 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer on a yearly basis. Although all women are at risk of cervical cancer, it’s particularly prevalent amidst women aged 30 and above.
A majority of cases of cervical cancer are triggered by a high-risk form of HPV. For those who don’t know, HPV is a virus that’s transmitted from person to person through genital contact irrespective of whether it’s oral, vaginal or anal. If the HPV virus remains untreated and does not go away on its own, there’s a good chance that it will lead to a case of cervical cancer over time.
However, there are quite a few other things as well that may increase a woman’s risk of developing cancer following a high-risk HPV infection. These are inclusive of:
- Having HIV or a reduced immunity
- Taking birth control pills for a long time (more than five years)
- Having given birth to three or more children
Symptoms of cervical cancer
What’s most scary about cervical cancer is that you may not notice any symptoms or signs of it in the beginning. Its symptoms typically become apparent in the advanced stages. Signs of advanced cervical cancer may include vaginal discharge, painful intercourse, leg pain, swelling, uncomfortable or irregular urination, unexplained weight loss or unusual bleeding from the vagina. However, it must be noted that these symptoms may not be caused by cervical cancer alone so it is best for you to consult your doctor right away.