A Healthy Cervix

Making Sure a Healthy Cervix Is a Part of Your Health Agenda

A healthy cervix should be part of every woman's health agenda. With a few simple steps most women can greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical health problems such as cervical dysplasia or the more serious cervical cancer. Here's to a healthy cervix!

1
Get a Pap Smear

pap smear tools
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Many women don't realize how important having a regular Pap smear can be in preventing cervical cancer. It is often mistaken as a diagnostic test. A Pap smear, however, is a screening test that looks for abnormal cervical changes that indicate cancer or changes that could one day lead to cervical cancer. In most cases, cervical cancer takes years to develop; having a regular Pap smear detects these changes long before they become cancerous.

Think about when you had your last Pap smear and when the doctor recommended that you have your next one. Frequency varies from woman to woman, so if you are unsure or have never had one, check with your doctor or view the latest screening guidelines. Mark the month on your calendar so you don't forget!

2
Follow the Doctor's Recommendations

doctor talking to patient
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It is surprising how many women don't follow their doctor's orders. Visits for follow-up Pap smears, colposcopy exams, and treatment often marked as "no show". Lack of insurance, mistrust of doctors, and misunderstanding of recommended follow-up tests are all common reasons.

To prevent cervical cancer, women must be proactive in their healthcare. This means listening to the doctor and if there is a disagreement about care, second opinions are always an option. Mistrust of one doctor's opinion should never result in the mistrust of all doctors.

Never leave the doctor's office until you have a complete understanding of the follow-up plan. Know the what's, when's and why's of your plan!

3
Get Vaccinated with the HPV Vaccine

HPV Vaccine
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You may be wondering how a vaccine can help keep your cervix healthy. The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, protects against common sub-strains of the human papillomavirus known to cause cervical cancer in women. Women infected with these high-risk strains develop cervical dysplasia. When left unmonitored and untreated, high-risk cervical dysplasia can develop into cervical cancer.

The vaccine in currently FDA-approved for young women ages 9-26, with a target age of 11-12. Results of a 2007 study show Gardasil's effectiveness in older women, showing promise of expanded use of the vaccine.

4
Practice Safe Sex

Condoms in multi colors
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Practicing safe sex not only prevents unwanted pregnancy, it also helps prevents sexually transmitted infections that can make the cervix unhealthy. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that is spread through sexual, skin-to-skin contact - no penile penetration is needed to transmit the virus. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples are at risk. While condoms aren't 100 percent effective at preventing the spread of HPV, studies show that they do provide some protection.

5
Report Symptoms to Your Doctor

Patient talking to doctor
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Although cervical cancer rarely presents early symptoms, you should always timely report any symptoms you are experiencing to your doctor. Symptoms that may indicate a cervical problem include (but not limited to):

  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse (post-coital bleeding)
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding(heavy menstrual flow, bleeding between menstrual periods
  • vaginal discharge

References:

"Detailed Guide: Cervical Cancer." Key Statistics About Cervical Cancer. 04 AUG 2006. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_1X_What_are_the_key_statistics_for_cervical_cancer_8.asp.

"National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet." Human Papillomaviruses and Cancer: Questions and Answers. 08 JUN 2006.

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