How healthy is your cervix? If you’re not sure, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition urges you to take steps to protect the health of your cervix during January, which is Cervical Health Awareness Month.
The cervix is a small but important part of the female reproductive cycle. Making up the base of uterus, the cervix is shaped somewhat like a cylinder. It plays the important role as gatekeeper to the uterus, allowing in semen and letting out menstrual fluid.
Its position as gatekeeper, however, can also make it vulnerable, particularly to HPV and cervical cancer. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. In fact, an estimated 50% of sexually active men and women will have HPV at some point, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many of these people don’t even know they have HPV, since it can be an asymptomatic infection. You can learn more about HPV by reading our knowledge center article, Understanding HPV.
Certain strands of HPV can cause cervical cancer. Fortunately, cervical cancer is a slow growing and highly treatable form of cancer if caught early. But because HPV can be asymptomatic, it’s important that women take preventive action to catch cancer as soon as possible.
There are steps that women can take to protect their cervixes from HPV and cervical cancer:
- Preteens and teens should receive the HPV vaccine.
- Sexually active women should practice safe sex to prevent acquiring HPV.
- Women should get a regular pap smear, a test that detects abnormal cells on the cervix before they turn cancerous.
- Women over the age of thirty should be tested for HPV, in addition to their Pap smear.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women aged 21-29 years receive a pap smear every three years, while women age 30 to 65 have a pap smear with an HPV test every five years. Your gynecologist, though, will assess your individual health history and will let you know when and how frequently you need a pap smear or an HPV test.
Pap smears, HPV testing, and the HPV vaccine are all now covered by health insurance plans without additional co-pays for these services.
The screenings for HPV and cervical cancer can usually be done during your annual well woman checkup. Even if you don’t need a Pap smear this year, you still need to see your gynecologist or midwife for your yearly exam. These well woman exams help ensure that you are receiving the preventative health care necessary to keep you well and productive.
The physicians and staff and Northern Florida’s All About Women pride themselves on offering compassionate care to women at all stages of life. Contact our Gainesville or Lake City office today if you need to make a well woman appointment or if you have other concerns about your reproductive health.
And to learn more about other ways to protect your health, visit our Knowledge Center for quality information on women’s health issues and much more.