The cervix is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It is situated in the lower half of the abdomen (the pelvis). The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb). The cervix is a passage that connects the uterus to the vagina. During a menstrual period, blood flows from the uterus through the cervix into the vagina. The vagina leads to the outside of the body. Functions of cervix: It makes mucus. During sex, mucus helps sperm move from the vagina through the cervix into the uterus. During pregnancy, the cervix is tightly closed to help keep the baby inside the uterus. During childbirth, the cervix opens to allow the baby to pass through the vagina.
Human Papilloma Virus infection: HPV is a group of viruses that can infect the cervix. HPV is the cause of nearly all cervical cancers. HPV infections are very common. These viruses are passed from person to person through sexual contact. Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time in their lives, but most infections clear up on their own. Some types of HPV can cause changes to cells in the cervix. If these changes are found early, cervical cancer can be prevented by removing or killing the changed cells before they can become cancer cells.
The HPV has a number of strains (types) and vaccine for females ages 9 to 26 protects against two types of HPV infection that cause cervical cancer.
Lack of regular Pap tests: Cervical cancer is more common among women who don’t have regular Pap tests. The Pap test helps doctors find abnormal cells. Removing or killing the abnormal cells usually prevents cervical cancer.
Smoking: Among women who are infected with HPV, smoking cigarettes increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Weakened immune system (the body’s natural defense system): Infection with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or taking drugs that suppress the immune system increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Sexual history: Women who have had many sexual partners have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. Also, a woman who has had sex with a man who has had many sexual partners may be at higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
Using birth control pills for a long time: Using birth control pills for a long time (5 or more years) may slightly increase the risk of cervical cancer among women with HPV infection. However, the risk decreases quickly when women stop using birth control pills.
Having many children: Studies suggest that giving birth to many children (5 or more) may slightly increase the risk of cervical cancer among women with HPV infection.
Bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods
Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam
Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than before
Bleeding after going through menopause
Increased vaginal discharge
Pain during sex
In case of any of the above symptoms, consult the doctor immediately
Regular PAP Smear Test is the recommended method to detect the cancer early when it is completely curable and also as a preventive measure. The Pap smear test checks for any changes in the cervical tissue and can detect the earliest cancer changes. It is a painless and quick test which the doctor does during pelvic examination. Pap test can also find if there is infection by HPV.
When To Get PAP Test Done?
It depends on age and health history of the women. Most women can follow these guidelines:
Starting at age 21, have a Pap test every 2 years.
If you are 30 years old and older and have had 3 normal Pap tests for 3 years in a row, talk to your doctor about spacing out Pap tests to every 3 years.
If you are over 65 years old, ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests
More frequent testing is recommended if:
You have a weakened immune system because of organ transplant, chemotherapy, or steroid use
You are HIV-positive:
It usually takes about 3 weeks to get the pap test results. In case of any abnormality, further tests are done to find the exact type of cancer and whether the cancer has spread to other regions of the body or not. Accordingly, the treatment is planned.