Do you know where your cervix is? | Sex in the Suburbs

Amy Johnson - Contributed
Amy Johnson
— image credit: Contributed

It’s January - do you know where your cervix is?

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so here’s a little anatomy for you.

The cervix is located between the vagina and uterus. This is the area that opens and becomes thinner to allow a baby to exit a woman’s body during labor. It’s also the part of the body checked during Pap tests. I know, I know — it’s not your favorite appointment to make. But it can save your life. Literally.

Getting regular Pap tests allows you to be checked for changes in the cervix. Finding precancerous cells makes early treatment possible and can prevent cancer. You will also be screened for HPV.

Around 79 million Americans have HPV, or human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and it is a major cause of cervical cancer in women.

Most people with HPV have absolutely no symptoms, which is one of the reasons it spreads so widely. Many strains of HPV are naturally cleared by the body over time. Some cause genital warts, and some cause cervical cancer.

According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition and the National Cancer Institute, more than 12,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, and approximately a third of them will die. A majority of women who get diagnosed with cervical cancer have either never had a Pap test or haven’t had one in the past five years (www.nccc-online.org).

Regular Pap tests, supplemented by HPV tests which look for “high-risk” types of HPV that lead to cervical cancer, can detect pre-cancerous changes in cells, as well as detecting cervical cancer. There are many ways to treat pre-cancerous cells so that they never develop into cervical cancer—but your health care provider needs to know they are there in order to treat them.

Another prevention method for cervical cancer is to get vaccinated. Two HPV vaccines are currently approved for use with girls and young women, and one is also approved for use with boys and young men. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends routine HPV vaccinations for both girls and boys, ages 11-12, and also recommends those ages 13-26 get vaccinated if they did not get the vaccine earlier.

The vaccines protect against the strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer--and guys, listen up— HPV is also a cause of throat cancer (see http://www.federalwaymirror.com/lifestyle/212513181.html), which is one of the reasons why it’s important for you to get vaccinated too.

Since there are other types of HPV that are not included in the vaccines, it’s important to continue to get regular Pap and HPV tests, even if you’ve received the vaccine.

In Federal Way, to find out if you qualify for a free or low-cost Pap test (as well as breast and colon cancer screening) under the Breast, Cervical and Colon Health Program, and where to get screened, call (888)438-2247 or (800) 756-5437.

You can also contact the Planned Parenthood on 348th Street at (800) 769-0045 or 253-661-0132. Otherwise, contact your OB-GYN today to schedule that appointment. Your cervix will thank you!

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer, educator and coach in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of the books, “Parenting by Strengths: A Parent’s Guide for Challenging Situations” and “Homegrown Faith and Justice.” Amy facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area and online.  She specializes in working with parents and in sexuality education. Amy can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.


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