The Cervix (and how to keep it healthy)!

We hear about cervical cancer a lot, and we get a Pap smear regularly. But do you really know why you're getting it and what your cervix is?

The cervix - what is it really?

The cervix is a vital part of a females reproductive system. It is the passage way between your vagina and uterus. For those who aren't scared to locate where your cervix is situated, when you get some privacy, simply place your finger into your vagina and feel towards the back. It should feel firm and round, with a small dimple in the middle. Now for those who think it's 'taboo' to go venturing this far, well your wrong, you really shouldn't be afraid of exploring your body, it is natural to be curious. Knowing what your body feels like (especially your vagina and cervix is also extremely helpful in discovering any changes that occur within these areas).

The cervix is actually the lower portion of your uterus, that dimple you feel is the entrance to your uterus. The uterus can be described as a hollow and muscular organ, which the endometrium lines. The endometrium is the lining that sheds every month - your period.

Normally the opening of your cervix (if you haven't had children) which leads into the cervix canal is no larger than a very thin straw, therefore you don't need to worry about losing anything like a tampon in your vagina (as it has no where to go). During childbirth however the cervix expands to an incredible degree to pass the baby through. After the birth of a child it should tighten again to some degree.

What else is it responsible for?

The cervical canal is also responsible for the mucous that comes from the vagina. Around the time of ovulation (when the egg is released from the ovaries) the cervical canal produces a thin slippery mucous which you may have noticed in around the 12-14th day of your cycle. This is to aid the sperm to travel up into the uterus and be fertilised with the new female egg. During pregnancy, the cervix canal produces a mucus plug, which seals off any access to and from the vagina to the uterus (where the baby is growing). This is to ensure that the growing foetus is protected from any harmful substances, such as bacteria.

Problems that may arise

In most cases the cervix should remain healthy throughout life, however it is a part of your reproductive system and is susceptible to a variety of things.

These include:

Cervicitis. This can be caused by some kind of irritation, such as leaving a tampon in for too long. It can also be caused from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

STDs that are either viral or bacterial such as trichomonas, chlamydia and genital herpes, which may cause cervicitis (these STDs can be located at this health site).

Genital warts (a STD). These are more dangerous to the cervix. These need to be located and treated, as they have been associated to pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix.

Cervical dysplasia (pre-cancerous changes in the cervical cells). This is why you need a Pap smear regularly. These changes can occur for no reason. These are often nothing to worry about, and can be actually quite common. All this means that you will need to have Pap smears more frequently. It does not mean you have cancer, just that your cells have mutated slightly (mutation, meaning some of the cells on your cervix have changed slightly from the normal one's on your cervix). These are cells that start to look like cancer cells, however they don't behave like them. You will most likely find that the next test is fine, but you must go back for testing when your doctor tells you to. If the test is still the same, regular Pap smears need to be taken to keep an eye on these changes.

Cervical cancer. Early detection from a Pap smear is essential in curing this cancer. Cervical cancer is around the third most common cancer of the reproductive organs of women, and a simple test is available to detect this. If this cancer is left undetected, around one third of women can die from it. This is why all women should take advantage of this test. Cervical cancer in this day and age should not advance to the degree that it is life threatening if women have regular Pap smears.

Keeping your cervix healthy!

GET YOUR PAP SMEAR TEST (regularly)!!! This test will pick up any abnormalities in your cervical tissue. However if you want a STD test you must specifically ask for one, as this is not routinely done with a smear. The smear test will only pick up cellular irregularities, not necessarily infections.

Always practise safe sex. Yes this means using condoms. Condoms can eliminate the chances of some STDs. However condoms do not always protect genital herpes and warts, so get to know your new partner. Avoid having causal sex, as this will reduce the likelihood of becoming in contact with someone with a STD.

Pay attention to changes or any unusual symptoms. If you experience any changes in your lower half then take notice. These things include:
  • painful intercourse
  • unusual odd-smelling discharge, or an increase in discharge (from the norm)
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • pelvic pain
  • unexpected bleeding

    If any of these things occur please see your doctor immediately. You may need a Pap smear (including a STD test) and a urine test.

    Oh, and eat lots of fruit and vegies!
    Research has found that there's a connection between folic acid (a B vitamin) and a reduction in cervical cancer. This vitamin can be found in green and yellow vegetables, juices, citrus fruits, liver, and yeasts.
    Oh, and smoking cigarettes has also been found to increase the incidence of dysplasia (changes in cervical cells), so there's another reason to quit if you smoke.

    - Louise Ganey (RN)

    More on Genital Warts -

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