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CERVIX AND ITS COMMON PROBLEMS

The neck-like lower part of a human female’s uterus is called cervix. It is also called the neck of the womb. It connects the uterus to the vaginal canal. The different conditions that can affect the cervix range from mild inflammation to cervical cancer. There might be symptoms like abnormal bleeding  or discharge from your vagina, lower abdominal pain, or no symptoms at all.

Infections caused by germs such as bacteria and viruses can lead to inflammation of the cervix, a condition also known as cervicitis. Infections can be caught most often while having sex. Common sexually transmitted infections affecting the cervix are gonorrhoea, chlamydia, genital herpes, trichomonas and HPV (human papillomavirus). Cervicitis can also be caused by other conditions such as allergies, irritation and even radiotherapy.

If there is an overgrowth of normal germs in the vagina, you might be having bacterial vaginosis (BV). There might be one or more small growths arising from a stalk on either the surface or the inside of the cervix. These growths are called polyps, which, though not cancerous, need to be removed.

You might also be having endometriosis, when the endometrium (the tissue which makes up the inside surface of the womb) grows outside the lining of your womb. Though harmless, you might be facing cervical ectropion (erosion). Tiny cysts called Nabothian cysts may form on the surface of the cervix. And then there is cervical cancer which occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control, caused by some types of HPV.

HOW TO TREAT PROBLEMS OF THE CERVIX

The cervix sits at the top of the vaginal canal. Unless something goes wrong with it, generally it is not given much attention. The cervix has a vital role in protecting your health. It also helps your reproductive system run smoothly.

Problems with the cervix, especially cervical cancer, are hard to detect. It is recommended that women get regularly screened through pap and HPV tests. A small soft brush is used for both tests. This brush collects the cervical cells which are then sent to the laboratory. Sometimes the HPV testing sample is taken directly from the pap sample.

Pap test (smear) – It collects cells from the surface of the cervix and vagina and identifies abnormal cervical cells which can lead to cancer if not detected early on.
HPV test – It detects any of the high-risk types of HPV that are most commonly found in cervical cancer.

Typically, surgery is used to treat early-stage cervical cancer. In this case, the uterus is removed by performing hysterectomy. This can cure the cancer as well as prevent recurrence. Another option is radiation therapy which may be used either on its own or along with chemotherapy to shrink a tumor before surgery, or to kill remaining cancer cells, if any, after surgery. Chemotherapy alone might be used as well.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR CERVIX HEALTHY

For women, looking after their cervical health should be top priority. Unfortunately most women do not know how to take proper care of their cervix. To keep it healthy, take these measures.

Practise safe sex. It is a good idea to use a female condom because it protects the inside of the vagina and the vulva from sexually transmitted infections.
Avoid smoking as it increases changes in cervical cells. Even second-hand smoke is harmful.
Eat well and get enough sleep. Go for dark green leafy vegetables rich in folic acid, vegetables or fruits containing beta-carotene such as carrots, peaches and cantaloupe, cooked tomato products such as paste and puree, and fruits containing lycopene, like watermelon and pink grapefruit.
According to some studies, there is a direct link between high levels of stress and irregular pap smear results. So, try to keep your stress under control.

NATIONAL CERVICAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH

January has been designated as the National Cervical Health Awareness Month by the United States Congress. The National Cervical Health Awareness Month aims to raise awareness regarding how women can protect themselves from diseases related to the cervix.

Currently, around 79 million Americans are affected by HPV. Most of these people are not aware that they are infected. Almost 13000 women in the United States are affected by cervical cancer each year.

Let us take this opportunity to spread the word about crucial but simple steps that can be taken to remain in good health. Here are some pointers – 

Women should start getting pap tests (cervical cancer screenings) at the age of 21
Pre-teens (both girls and boys) should get the HPV vaccine at 11-12 years of age
Males through age 21 years and females through age 26 years should get vaccinated if they have not been vaccinated previously

Though all women are at risk of cervical cancer, it is the most preventable and detectable type of cancer and there should be no death because of it. Precancerous and cancerous cervical conditions require regular follow-up and treatment.  When such changes in the cervix are detected early, women most certainly have a wide range of options to protect their health.