How to Have a Healthy Cervix

A healthy cervix should be part of every woman's health agenda. The cervix is the end of the uterus, which forms a canal between the vagina and the uterus. Health problems, such as dysplasia or cancer, and some conditions which can affect the cervix. But by taking a few simple steps, most women can greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical health problems.

This article will review the ways to help reduce the risk of cervical diseases and conditions, as well as when to contact your healthcare provider.

Schedule Routine Pap Smears

Preventive care and screening are important when it comes to preventing cervical cancer. The majority of cases of cervical cancer can be linked to infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus may not cause any symptoms when one becomes infected, but some may eventually lead to cancer. It is important to get Pap smears as scheduled to keep an eye out for HPV. The CDC estimates that 91% of cervical cancers are associated with HPV.

A Pap smear is a screening test that looks for abnormal cervical changes that indicate cancer or changes that could one day lead to cervical cancer. When Pap testing is combined with HPV testing, it is referred to as co-testing. In most cases, cervical cancer takes years to develop; having a regular Pap smear can find these changes before they become cancerous. Frequency varies from woman to woman, so check with your healthcare provider or review the latest screening guidelines.

Get Tested

Another HPV testing option is primary HPV testing. This is done similarly as Pap testing but only looks for Primary HPV testing checks for multiple strains of HPV. If HPV16 or HPV18 are found, additional testing may be ordered, as these two strains of HPV are most likely to cause cancer.

In guidelines issued in 2020, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that individuals who have a cervix undergo HPV primary testing, rather than a Pap test, every five years starting at 25 and continuing through 65. More frequent Pap tests (every three years) are regarded as acceptable for people whose healthcare practitioner does not have access to HPV primary testing. Previously the ACS advised screening begin at age 21.

Follow the Healthcare Provider's Recommendations

Your healthcare provider may recommend additional lab testing or procedures based upon your cervical screening results. It is important to follow these recommendations, as these are suggested to either treat issues found or to prevent future complications from arising.

If you have any questions about the procedures that have been ordered, ask them to your healthcare provider. They can explain more about what is needed and why they think you need it. If you're unsure about the plan, you can always seek the opinion of another healthcare provider.

Get the HPV Vaccine

One of the ways to keep the cervix healthy is to get the HPV vaccine. This vaccine protects against common strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer in women.

The HPV vaccine used in the United States is Gardasil 9. It protects against the strains of HPV most likely to cause cancer. Vaccines have been shown to be incredibly effective at preventing HPV related cancers and precancerous changes to the cervix.
In addition. other conditions, such as genital warts, are decreased as well.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two-dose HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12. Adolescents who are 15 years or older at the time of their first dose will need a third dose.

The 2020 HPV vaccination guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend the initial dose of HPV vaccine be given to boys and girls between ages 9 and 12. For teens and young adults up to age 26 who do not complete the series, the ACS recommends a "catch-up" HPV vaccination.

Practice Safer Sex

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 infection (STI) 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 regular condom use leads to lower infection rates of HPV.

Report All Symptoms

Although cervical cancer rarely presents early symptoms, you should always report any symptoms you are experiencing to your healthcare provider as soon as you start experiencing them. Symptoms that may indicate a cervical problem include (but not limited to):

  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse (postcoital bleeding)
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding(heavy menstrual flow, bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Vaginal discharge

Summary

Cervical health is and important factor to consider in a woman's overall health. Routine cervical screenings are suggested to screen for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells. these can be done through Pap testing, HPV testing, or co-testing together.

HPV prevention through vaccine use and safer sex practices can help reduce the transmission of HPV infection and decrease rates of cervical cancer.

A Word From Verywell

Following screening guidelines is a way to take an active role in your health. HPV associated cancers are potentially preventable, and it is important to consider recommendations given to you by your healthcare team. If you're ever concerned about something or if you're experiencing new or concerning symptoms, speak with your healthcare team.

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11 Sources
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