Cervical Health Facts Every Woman Should Knowby Yumhee Park Content Producer
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, formerly known as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. As women, it’s increasingly important to recognize different cervical-related health issues that may come up. Here are some basics to know about cervical health.
Where exactly is the cervix?
Here’s a quick anatomy lesson – the cervix is located in the lower part of the uterus, at the top of the vagina. It is the narrow passage that forms the lower end of the uterus. It is an essential body part in the female reproductive system.
HPV and cervical health
When you think cervix, you almost always think HPV, too. That’s because HPV is very closely linked to cervical health. HPV stands for human papillomavirus and it is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the US. Most of the time, it clears up on its own, but there are times when the virus can cause more serious problems like genital warts or cancers, namely cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine
There are three HPV vaccines available that can help prevent HPV-related cancers like cervical cancer. The newest one is called Gardasil-9 and was approved by the FDA in 2014. This latest vaccine protects against nine whole strains of HPV -- five more than the Gardasil vaccine and seven more than the Cervarix vaccine. The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years, but it can be given starting at age 9 years and through age 26 years. It’s most effective before any sexual activity has taken place.
Although cervical erosion sounds pretty scary, it’s generally not a worrisome condition. Cervical erosion, or more medically accurate, cervical ectropion is when the end of the cervix has a reddish appearance, with the tissue being similar to the inside of your lip. Symptoms can include vaginal discharge and bleeding after sex. Treatment isn’t necessary unless symptoms become disruptive.
Cervical dysplasia refers to cell changes on the surface of the cervix that are deemed abnormal. This most likely is caused by HPV but not always. These are discovered through a Pap test (also called a Pap smear), so it’s important to get your annual gyno check-up. Once discovered, more tests will need to be done to find more conclusive information.
Did you know that cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers? By getting your annual Pap test, you are already doing a key preventive measure. Catching abnormal cell changes is key to attacking cervical cancer before it forms. Symptoms of cervical cancer can include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge from the vagina, and pain during intercourse – but it’s best to not wait until symptoms appear and get regular check-ups. We know, those annual gyno visits aren’t the most fun, but they can save your life!
STDs and cervical health
As mentioned before, HPV is the one STD that can directly affect cervical health. Cervicitis – inflammation of the cervix – can also be caused by STDs such as gonorrhea, Chlamydia, trichnomoniasis, genital herpes, and genital warts. Consult your doctor if you are experiencing abnormal discharge, bleeding, and more to test for STDs and get your cervical health in order.
Preventive care is key
Overall cervical health is protected and maintained by taking the proper preventive measures. At your next gyno exam, be sure to ask for all the tests available, to get a Pap smear, ask about the HPV test, and about the HPV vaccine. It’s never too late to be in charge of your health.