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Improve your cervical health

August 21, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

The female reproductive system is a model of ingenuity, but it is not infallible. Women who want to maintain their personal health need to be aware of their unique needs, paying particular attention to maintaining function in key areas of their bodies.

Cervical health is something that may not immediately come to mind, but it is worthy of consideration. According to Verywell Health, the cervix is the lower portion of the uterus. The cervix essentially serves as the gatekeeper between the open vagina and the inside of the womb. It is sometimes referred to as "the neck of the uterus." The cervix is susceptible to various health conditions, including polyps, dysplasia, cancer, and inflammation, according to Patient Info, a patient health information resource. In order to improve cervical health, women are urged to learn more about the cervix and how to identify potential abnormalities.

The cervix looks like a small, pink button with a dimple on the end. It should feel smooth and firm, like the end of the nose. Mucus discharge is normal depending on the time of the month in the menstrual cycle.

When a woman is not pregnant, the cervix serves to keep germs, water, tampons, and other foreign matter from reaching inside of the body. The cervix helps keep a fetus in place while it grows in the uterus, according to Women's Health magazine. The cervix will thin out (efface) and widen (dilate) when childbirth is imminent. Due to its location, the cervix is often the first site of an identifiable infection of the reproductive system. Malodorous or off-colored discharge may indicate infection.

There are various ways a woman can keep her cervix healthy.

• Be observant. Changes in discharge or pain in the region of the cervix can indicate a problem.

• Exercise caution during intercourse. According to Sherry Ross, M.S., an obstetrician-gynecologist, repeated deep thrusting during intercourse can cause bruising or tearing of cervical tissue. Speak with a physician if you feel pain deep inside after intercourse.

• Protect yourself from STDs. Sexually transmitted infections, particularly those from human papilloma virus, can contribute to cervical cancer.

• Schedule routine screenings. A doctor will suggest a first Pap test at age 21. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you're 30 years old or older, you have three options. You can continue getting a Pap test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait three years for your next test. You can get an HPV test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait five years for your next test. You can get both an HPV and Pap test together. If your test results are normal, you can wait five years for your next tests.

• Live a healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition, adequate sleep, frequent exercise, and reduction of stress can go a long way in regard to maintaining overall health.

Getting the facts about the cervix can help women take the steps necessary to stay healthy.

Facts about gynecologic cancer

A woman's reproductive system is unique. That system is capable of contributing half the genetic material to create a child, and then has the unique ability to provide the optimal environment for that child to grow. The gynecological system is a remarkable component of the body, but just as susceptible to the formation of cancer as other areas.

Gynecologic cancers begin in the reproductive organs of women, advises Yale Medicine. Cancer can affect the cervix, ovaries, uterus and endometrium, vagina, and vulva. More rarely, cancer can occur in the fallopian tubes, indicates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is currently only one screening test for gynecologic cancers, and that test detects the presence of cervical cancer. Women are urged to have a Pap test at regular intervals indicated by their doctors to detect cervical cancer early when treatment can be most effective. Other gynecologic cancers are only detected through the presence of symptoms, which include:

• Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge.

• Pelvic pain.

• Urgent or frequent urination.

• Constipation.

Among the gynecologic cancers, uterine (endometrial) cancer is the most common type, reports the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. More than 49,500 Americans are diagnosed with this disease each year, and it tends to develop after menopause. Ovarian cancer is the second most common type of gynecologic cancer in the United States, affecting around one in 70 women. Cervical cancer used to be the most serious of cancers for women, according to MSKCC. However, thanks to screening, most people diagnosed with this illness can now be cured.

Yale Medicine states there are various factors that put a person at increased risk for developing gynecologic cancer. Contraction of the human papillomavirus is one of them. Age (most patients are over age 50), genetics and exposure to diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic form of estrogen used between 1940 and 1971, are additional risk factors.

Imaging tests, screenings, conversations with doctors, and being cognizant of body changes are some ways to detect gynecologic cancers early. While there is no way to completely avoid cancers of the female reproductive system, identifying risks and seeking help as early as possible can make gynecologic cancers much more treatable.

Print Headline: Improve your cervical health

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