Updated: Jan 31, 2019
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month so before the month ended I wanted to look more into the cervix and how to keep it healthy...
The CDC shared that 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually. Specifically, black women account for 2,000 of those diagnoses and 40% of cervical cancer deaths. Cervical cancer is mostly caused by the Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of more than 200 viruses that are commonly transmitted by oral, vaginal, and/or anal sex along with shared sex toys with someone who has HPV. There isn't a cure, but our bodies are capable of getting rid of the virus on their own.
The Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI) highlighted why HPV is a concern for black women:
Find out more about HPV here.
Often considered the "other" cancer, cervical cancer is yet another health concern that places black women at the higher end of the risk spectrum. Awareness and knowledge are necessary steps to improve the odds against us which is why this blog post is so important.
First, let's look at what a cervix is and where it is located in our body...
The cervix is the cylinder-shaped opening made mostly of strong fibromuscular tissue that is located at the bottom of the uterus and connects it to the vagina. The cervix consists of the exocervix (outer surface of the cervix) and the endocervix (inner portion of the cervix). The endocervix contains a narrow endocervical canal; external os (opening between the vagina and cervix) and the internal os (opening between the cervix and uterus).
The function of the cervix is to allow flow of menstrual blood from the uterus into the vagina, and direct the sperm into the uterus during sex. During pregnancy, the os closes in attempts to keep the fetus in the uterus until birth. When labor occurs, the os opens back up and the cervix dilates to allow the passage of the fetus from the uterus to the vagina.
As the statistics have demonstrated earlier, black women are still disproportionately affected by this disease despite being a small fraction of the general population. Due to this, we rely on effective prevention measures to remain cancer free or at least have early detection if cancer is evident.
According to the CDC and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), here are some ways to prevent cervical cancer:
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines
The HPV vaccines have been proven to prevent infection from two high risk HPV types that are known to lead to cervical cancer as well as the low risk types that cause genital warts. The CDC recommends that all children at the ages 11 or 12 should be vaccinated for HPV. This is due to stronger immune systems during those pre-teen years. Recently, the vaccine is now available for individuals through the age of 45. As mentioned earlier by the BWHI, this vaccine has been known to not prevent the high risk HPV types common among black women so consulting with your health care provider is important for recommendations.
A Pap test allows the health care provider to find any cell changes or abnormal cells on the cervix only. The Pap test DOES NOT screen for ovarian cancer or any other reproductive cancers besides cervical cancer.
This test locates the virus and detects which women are at higher risk for cervical cancer than others. If high risk HPV is diagnosed, a further screening called a coloscopy will be used to get a closer look at the vagina and cervix. Depending on age and risk, both the Pap and HPV tests will be recommended for routine screening. Find out when to get screened here.
Before your Pap or HPV test, the CDC recommends the following:
1. You should not schedule your test for a time when you are having your period.
2. If you are going to have a test in the next two days—
- You should not douche (rinse the vagina with water or another fluid).
- You should not use a tampon.
- You should not have sex.
- You should not use a birth control foam, cream, or jelly.
- You should not use a medicine or cream in your vagina.
All in all, cervical health is not only vital for successful pregnancies and cancer prevention but also for healthy and pleasurable sex.