How to Have a Healthy Cervix

A healthy cervix should be part of every woman's health agenda. With a few simple steps, most women can greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical health problems such as cervical dysplasia or the more serious cervical cancer. Here's to a healthy cervix!

1

Pay Attention to Prevention

pap smear tools
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Preventive care and screening is absolutely crucial when it comes to preventing cervical cancer. There are two main strategies for detecting human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the primary causes of cervical cancer.

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. In most cases, cervical cancer takes years to develop; having a regular Pap smear detects these changes long before they become cancerous. Think about when you had your last Pap smear and when the doctor recommended that you have your next one. Frequency varies from woman to woman, so if you are unsure or have never had one, check with your doctor or review the latest screening guidelines.

The other option is to get HPV primary testing. Primary HPV testing checks for two strains of HPV, 16 and 18, which are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer cases. If HPV 16 or 18 is detected then a colposcopy is recommended. A colposcopy is procedure that magnifies the cervix so physicians can take a better look at abnormal cells and take biopsies if needed.

The most up-to-date cervical cancer screening guidelines are the 2020 guidelines American Cancer Society (ACS). ACS recommends that people with a cervix undergo HPV primary testing — instead of a Pap test — every five years, starting at age 25 and continuing through 65. More frequent Pap tests (every three years) are still considered acceptable tests for offices without access to HPV primary testing. The previous ACS guidelines, released in 2012, advised screening to begin at age 21.

2

Follow the Doctor's Recommendations

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It is surprising how many women don't follow their doctor's orders. Visits for follow-up Pap smears, colposcopy exams, and other treatments are often marked as "no show". Lack of insurance, mistrust of doctors, and misunderstanding of recommended follow-up tests are all common reasons.

To prevent cervical cancer, women must be proactive in their healthcare. This means listening to the doctor and if there is a disagreement about care, second opinions are always an option. Mistrust of one doctor's opinion should never result in the mistrust of all doctors.

Never leave the doctor's office until you have a complete understanding of the follow-up plan. Know the what's, when's and why's of your plan!

3

Get Vaccinated With the HPV Vaccine

HPV Vaccine
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You may be wondering how a vaccine can help keep your cervix healthy. The HPV vaccine protects against common sub-strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer in women. Women infected with these high-risk strains develop cervical dysplasia. When left unmonitored and untreated, high-risk cervical dysplasia can develop into cervical cancer.

Gardasil 9, the only available vaccine in the US, is currently FDA-approved for females 9 through 45 years of age to prevent against cervical and other cancers caused by the common disease-causing HPV strains. Guidelines vary about the optimal age for Garsadil 9 vaccination - though all agree that getting the vaccine on the earlier side can help prevent the largest number of cancer cases.

Guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend routine HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12 years. Adolescents who get the vaccine less than five months apart will need a third dose. Anyone who gets the vaccine over age 14 should have three doses. For adults aged 27 through 45 years, public health benefit of HPV vaccination in this age range is minimal; shared clinical decision-making is recommended because some persons who are not adequately vaccinated might benefit. 

2020 HPV Vaccination Guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend that doctors routinely offer the HPV vaccine series to boys and girls between ages 9 and 12. For any kids who haven’t completed the series, the ACS guideline recommends healthcare providers offer 'catch-up' HPV vaccination up to age 26. The ACS does not recommend vaccination after age 26.

4

Practice Safe Sex

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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 virus 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 they do provide some protection.

5

Report Symptoms to Your Doctor

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Although cervical cancer rarely presents early symptoms, you should always report any symptoms you are experiencing to your doctor 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
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  1. Fontham ETH, Wolf AMD, Church TR, et al. Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk: 2020 guideline update from the American Cancer Society. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020;10.3322/caac.21628.

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines and Preventable Diseases. HPV Vaccine Recommendations. Last Updated March 17, 2020.

  3. Saslow D, Andrews KS, Manassaram-baptiste D, Smith RA, Fontham ETH. Human papillomavirus vaccination 2020 guideline update: American Cancer Society guideline adaptation. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020; doi: 10.3322/caac.21616.