Women often talk about the cervix in connection with childbirth or the Pap test . However, many do not know what the cervix is and how it works. Learn more about how the cervix plays an important role in the female reproductive system.
What you need to know about the cervix
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. It is about two inches long and is tubular in shape.
It expands during labor to allow the baby to pass through. It also allows menstrual fluid to pass from the uterus and sperm must pass through the cervix to reach the uterus.
The cervix is vulnerable to various diseases such as chronic inflammation, polyps , dysplasia, and cancer. Unfortunately, cervical disease is rarely symptomatic in its early stages; therefore, a regular Pap smear by a gynecologist is vital. A Pap test can detect abnormal changes in the cervix long before they become cancerous.
The Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines, updated by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in September 2017, suggest :
- Women should have their first Pap test at age 21 (previous guidelines recommended that women have their first Pap test three years after sexual initiation or at age 21, whichever comes first).
- Women ages 21 to 29 should only have a Pap test every 3 years. HPV testing is not recommended.
- Women ages 30 to 65 should have a Pap test and HPV test (joint test) every 5 years (preferably). A Pap test is also allowed every 3 years.
- Women 65 and older should stop cervical cancer screening if they have no history of moderate or severe abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, and if they have had three negative Pap tests or two joint tests with negative results. tracked for the last 10 years, and the last test was performed in the last 5 years.
- Women who have had a hysterectomy should ask their doctor if they still need an exam. The answer depends on several factors, including whether the cervix was removed, why a hysterectomy was needed, and whether there was a history of moderate or severe cervical cell changes or cervical cancer. Even if the cervix is removed during a hysterectomy, there may still be cells from the cervix in the upper part of the vagina. If you have a history of cervical cancer or cervical cell changes, you should continue to have tests for 20 years after surgery.
Anatomy of the cervix
Several key components contribute to the function of the cervix. These areas of the cervix are often examined during pregnancy, Pap tests, and colposcopy . It is important to become familiar with them to understand the possible changes that occur in the cervix. This knowledge will also help you understand tests like the Pap test or colposcopy.
- Endocervical canal: This is a potential space in the center of the tissue tube, which is the cervix. During a colposcopy, your doctor may take a sample of cells from the endocervical canal. This is called endocervical curettage (ECC) .
- Ectocervix: This is the lower part of the cervix that protrudes into the vagina.
- Internal: This part of the cervix is closest to the uterus . During pregnancy and delivery, you may hear your doctor talk about "you."
- Or external: this is the opening of the ectocervix.
- Transformation Zone: Also called "TK" for brevity. This is the area of the cervix where cervical dysplasia usually occurs. The transformation zone is often discussed during colposcopy.
Again, a Pap test should be done regularly to detect any early changes in the cells of the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer; however, you should know that most abnormal Pap tests are caused by inflammation or infection.