The Cervix In Female Reproductive Health

The Cervix Is a Key Part of the Reproductive System

Cervical smear test equipment
TEK IMAGE/SPL / Getty Images

The cervix is the lower third portion of the uterus. It forms the neck of the uterus and opens into the vagina (which is also called the endocervical canal). It is a little over an inch long, and just about an inch wide. Made up largely of muscle tissue, it plays a minor role except during pregnancy or if a medical problem emerges.

Because of its location between the uterus and the vagina, the cervix is rarely seen.

To see one's own cervix requires a mirror and bright light. It is possible to feel the cervix with your finger; if you do so you'll notice that it changes texture over the course of your cycle.

Anatomy of the Cervix

The narrow opening of the cervix is called the os. The cervical os allows menstrual blood to flow out from the vagina during menstruation.

The cervix is covered by the epithelium which is made of a thin layer of cells. Epithelial cells are either squamous or columnar (also called glandular cells). Squamous cells are flat and scaly, while columnar cells appear, as indicated by their name, column-like.

There are three parts of the cervix:

  1. The inner part, which can only be seen from inside the vagina, is called the ectocervix.The center of the ectocervix can open, creating a passage between the uterus and vagina.
  2. The endocervix, also called the endocervical canal, is the passage between ectocervix and the uterus.
  1. The point at which the endocervix and ectocervix meet is called the transformation zone.

Functions of the Cervix

The cervix produces cervical mucus. Cervical mucus changes in consistency over the course of a woman's cycle. At the point of greatest fertility, the cervix produces a good deal of clear mucus which helps to promote pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the mucus produced by the cervix thickens to create a cervical "plug." This shields the growing embryo from infection. The cervical plug thins and is expelled when birth is imminent.

During menstruation, the cervix opens a small amount to permit passage of menstrual flow. During pregnancy, the cervical os closes to help keep the fetus in the uterus until birth. Another important function of the cervix occurs during labor when the cervix dilates (widens), to allow the passage of the fetus from the uterus to the vagina.

Cervical Conditions and Problems

There are a number of issues that can affect the cervix. These include injury and infection (especially during pregnancy and birth), cancer, genital warts, and various types of venereal disease. The cervix can cause issues during pregnancy and birth, as well. For example, cervical insufficiency occurs when the cervix is too weak to maintain a pregnancy.

Having regular Pap smears is imperative to detect early changes to the cervical cells which may lead to cervical cancer. You should know, however, that the majority of abnormal Pap smears are due to inflammation or infection.

Source

    Continue Reading