What You Need To Know About Cervix Health

Cervix Diseases Include Cervical Cancer & HPV

Uterus Illustration
The Cervix. Image © A.D.A.M.

Definition:

The cervix is the lower, narrow portion of the uterus. The cervix dilates and opens widely when a woman gives birth and dilates to a much lesser degree each month during menstruation.

The Cervix During Pregnancy

When the cervix dilates too early in pregnancy, a baby can be born prematurely. Women who have a tendency to experience premature dilation of the cervix may have a condition called cervical insufficiency (formerly known as incompetent cervix).

This condition can cause recurrent pregnancy loss or recurrent preterm delivery. Depending on what point in pregnancy this occurs, cervical insufficiency can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or preterm delivery. Cervical insufficiency tends to be a recurring problem.

Other Conditions Affecting the Cervix

Cancer of the cervix (also called cervical cancer) starts in the cells in and around the cervix. Normal cells will have a slow transformation into precancerous cells before turning into cancer.  The slow changes, which can take several years, are called dysplasia. The best way to find out of you have precancerous cervical cells is through a Pap Test performed by a gynecologist. If abnormal cells are found on a Pap Test, your doctor may order more testing and a tissue sample via a biopsy to check for cancerous cells.

The Human Papillomavirus (pap-ah-LOmah-VYE-rus), which is most commonly known as HPV, can cause normal cervical cells to become abnormal.

  If not treated, these cells can become cancerous over time, However, it can take 15 or more years for HPV to change the normal cells into abnormal cells. Many gynecologists will order an HPV test for women over the age of 30 at the same time as a Pap Test. Both are cancer screening tools that help you maintain cervix health.

HPV is spread through genital skin to skin contact during sexual intercourse or through oral sex. Most often, people don't know they have HPV or that they are passing it onto their partner.

The virus is so common about 14 million people become infected with HPV each year.

HPV Vaccine

In recent years a vaccine was developed to prevent HPV in both males and females. current recommendations are for children to receive the vaccine as early as 11-years-old before they are exposed to the virus through sex.

Women under the age of 26 can get the vaccine and men age 21 or under. It is also recommended for any man age 26 or under who has sex with other men.

However, women who have received the vaccine still need to be screened for abnormal cervical cells through regular Pap Tests because the vaccine doesn't cover every strain of HPV.

Sources:

American Cancer Society, cancer.org, What is cancer of the cervix?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, HPV Vaccine for Preteens and Teens

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, Making Sense of Your Pap & HPV Test Results

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