What is the cervix?
The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus, which attaches the uterus to the vagina. It consists of the ectocervix, which is the external part of the cervix that protrudes into the vaginal canal, and the endocervix, which is the tunnel from the inside of the uterus to the ectocervix’s central opening to provide passage between vagina and uterus.
The cervix’s function is to secrete mucus that facilitates the entrance of sperm into the uterus. Some hormonal contraception works by thickening the cervical mucus to bar sperm from the endocervix.
HPV is closely linked to cervical cancer
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses passed through skin-to-skin contact is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Certain types of HPV are known to be the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. The good news is most cases of HPV do not develop into cervical cancer. However, it is important to know the risks of HPV, and to protect yourself via regular STI screening, the HPV vaccine, and communication about safety protocols with your sexual partner(s).
Each year, around 14,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed, making it the fourth most common type of cancer for people with uteruses worldwide. This is why cervical care is an integral part of overall health maintenance. Two of the best ways you can take care of your cervix are by getting regular Pap smears and regular STI screenings.
Regular pap smears can help detect cervical cancer early
A Pap smear tests for cancerous and precancerous cells in the cervix. People age 21-65 years old generally speaking should have routine Pap smears every three years. It is recommended to get tested for HPV during a pap smear as follows by Planned Parenthood:
If you’re 21 to 24 years old: you can choose to get a Pap test every 3 years, or you can wait until you’re 25 years old to start getting tested.
If you’re 25–65 years old: You can get an HPV test every 5 years, or a Pap test and HPV test together (co-testing) every 5 years. In some places where HPV testing is less available, you may get only a Pap test every 3 years.
If you’re older than 65: You may not need HPV/Pap tests anymore.”
During a pap smear, the patient lies down on an exam table and the health practitioner will insert a speculum into the vaginal canal and open it to see the cervix. They will then insert a stick or soft brush to collect cells from the surface of and inside the cervix and vagina. They are typically not painful, but may cause mild discomfort.
Taking care of your sexual health is extremely important. Prevention is always better than cure!