In my experience as a gynaecologist, it seems that many women have no clue what the cervix is. So, in honour of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in South Africa, let’s take a look at this crucial part of the female anatomy.
What is the cervix, exactly?
In medical terms, the cervix is the lowest part of the womb. One could even call it the transition from or between the external and internal female reproductive organs.
But what role does the cervix play in our bodies?
In simple terms, the function of the cervix is to allow the flow of menstrual blood from the uterus into the vagina, and also to direct sperm towards the uterus during intercourse. The cervix also has a mucous lining, which has many physiological protective properties that act against infection, particularly during sexual intercourse.
What does the cervix do during pregnancy?
While you are pregnant, the cervix is responsible for keeping the growing baby (foetus) in the uterus. Once you are in labour, the cervix loses some of its firmness and shortens in order to allow you to birth the baby. This is when you hear doctors, midwives or nurses saying a mother is x number of centimeters dilated.
How do I know if there is something wrong?
Even though your cervix is doing all it can to keep you healthy, there are a number of things that you need to be on the lookout for. For example, if you are bleeding after sex, have smelly or thick vaginal discharges, or experience pain with movement of the cervix and when having sex, you should definitely go and see your gynaecologist. All of these symptoms are an indication of an unhealthy cervix.
What does the cervix have to do with HPV?
It is also incredibly important to note that about 98% of cervical cancer is caused by high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus is transmitted by skin contact, including sexual contact. Most sexually active people will have this infection, and in most immune competent persons it will be cleared by the body. However, if the high-risk HPV infection (commonly types 16 and 18) is persistent in the cervix, it can lead to transformation of healthy lining cells into pre-cancer cells. This is why it is so important for women to get themselves regular pap smears.
What can I do to protect this little wonder?
Ladies, I would like to encourage you to take your reproductive health into your own hands. Have yourselves checked out by a gynaecologist, read up on the facts and ask questions if there is anything you are unsure about. I can promise you that we have probably heard the majority of these kinds of questions before, so don’t be shy!
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How do I find a gynae?
If you are looking for a gynaecologist to help you or to do your pap smear, contact Advanced Health on 012 346 5020 or visit Advancedhealth.co.za.
#AskAGynae: if you have questions you would like Dr Mojaki to answer, email Marie Claire‘s online editor at abigail[at]assocmedia.co.za. Your questions will be kept anonymous, and we will publish the answers.