January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so naturally, there’s a lot of attention on cervical cancer. And rightly so. Nearly 13,000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Early cervical cancer has few symptoms, but is preventable with the HPV vaccine and regular cancer screenings.
So, cervical health is very important and a critical aspect to reproductive health. But, just what is the cervix? What roles does it serve in our bodies? Why do we need to pay close attention to its health?
What is the Cervix?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus; it connects the vagina and the uterus. It’s about an inch long, and if you were to look at it through the vagina, the cervix would look like a donut. The cervix also contains an opening called the cervical canal, where sperm travel from the vagina to the uterus. Certain types of birth control, like the diaphragm and the cervical cap, prevent pregnancy by blocking the cervical canal and stopping sperm from reaching the egg.
What Does the Cervix Do?
Besides serving as a passage for sperm to fertilize the egg, the cervix also has a few other functions. First, the cervix produces cervical mucus to either aid sperm to the egg during ovulation or to hinder sperm during other times of the menstrual cycle. You may have heard of fertility methods that take advantage of the “infertile” cervical mucus to prevent pregnancy.
If you’re familiar with how labor and delivery works, the cervix dilates during labor, supporting the head and eventually allowing the fetus to descend into the vagina. If you’ve ever heard someone referring to how much a woman is “dilated,” they are referring to the diameter of the cervix.
Why Should We Pay Attention to Our Cervical Health?
It may seem difficult to pay attention to a body part you can’t even see or touch. But cervical cancer is easily preventable, and regular screenings can find abnormal cells before they turn into a cancer. The HPV vaccine protects against many cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), including cervical cancer. Two types of HPV, HPV 16 and 18, are the cause of 70 percent of all cervical cancers, and the vaccine protects against both types.
HPV may be common but cervical cancer doesn’t have to be. Do your cervix a service and schedule a cervical cancer screening today.
Kelly McCutchen is a Health Center Manager at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.