Being a woman isn’t easy. And it’s not for the bullshit reasons of learning how to apply makeup or staying in shape or blowing out your hair. It’s not about always having to wear a bra and making sure our panty lines don’t show. Those things aren’t necessary. I repeat, those things are not necessary characteristics of being a woman. It’s not even about having to deal with our period every damn month. By age 16 we’ve basically got that down. Being a woman isn’t easy – because there are so many other things that happen to our bodies on a daily basis that it’s hard to monitor everything.
But that’s why we have doctors. And that’s why it’s important to develop a routine with them. One of, if not the most, important doctors for a woman to develop a relationship with and visit at least yearly is her gynecologist. Here’s why: The “gyno” protects women from the “C” word. No not THAT C word. Cancer. Specifically of the Cervix.
Cervical cancer kills over 4,000 women a year in the United States. Though 4,000 may seem like an insignificant number in reference to the 157 million women in the U.S. – it’s still 4,000 cases that if found early enough, are curable. That means that more than 4,000 women won’t have to die if they are properly getting checked for changes in their body.
Once being one of the most common causes of cancer deaths in American women, over the last 30 years – the rate of women who have died of cervical cancer has gone down by more than 50%. Can you guess who the main hero behind this phenomenon is? You got it – the Pap test.
The “gyno” protects women from the “C” word.
The Papsmear is a yearly screening procedure that finds changes in the cervical lining and detects cancerous cells before cancer fully develops. It is also awkward and uncomfortable as hell. But you have to do it. It is recommended that women between the ages of 18-70 have a Pap test every one to two years.
What is a “cervix” (for men – and women – who aren’t well informed on the female anatomy)? The cervix is the lower part of a woman’s uterus. Cylindrical shaped, the cervix in a non-pregnant, healthy female is usually around 2-3 cm long. Scary that such a little thing can cause so much damage if not properly cared for, right? I included a pretty picture for you below (totally safe for work)…
Back to the other C word. What causes most cases of cervical cancer? Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV causes changes in the cervix. Most men and women who have ever had sex (even just once) have more than likely contracted some strand of HPV. Transmitted sexually, HPV can cause an infection of the cervix. The infection typically doesn’t last very long because your body is able to fight it off, but the infection can change cervical cells into pre-cancer cells. Pre-cancer cells are NOT cancer, and typically don’t cause noticeable changes in your body. Most pre-cancer cells revert back to normal after your body has fought off the infection however if they don’t, they can be treated. It is when Pap tests aren’t performed and pre-cancer cells aren’t found that they can turn into cancer if the body isn’t able to fight off the infection.
Cervical cancer kills over 4,000 women a year in the United States.
You may be familiar with the term HPV if you’ve ever gotten the Gardasil vaccine. Gardasil – given in three doses over six months – was developed to protect women from the specific strands of HPV (there are over a hundred different strands) that cause cervical cancer. The CDC recommends routine vaccination with Gardasil for boys and girls at ages 11 or 12. In women between the ages of 9 to 26, Gardasil helps to protect against two types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, 70% of vaginal cancer cases, and up to 50% of vulvar cancer cases. Who knew there were so many different parts of your va-jay-jay? Though Gardasil helps to prevent most cervical cancer causing strands, it is still so important for women to continue getting routine screenings at the gyno. Shots suck – but they are lifesaving. If you’re a woman under the age of 30, seriously consider talking to your gyno about getting Gardasil if you have not yet received the vaccine.
Cervical health is important. As women we should be in charge of our bodies and make sure that we are healthy. It is on us to follow through with appropriate check-ups and procedures. Many of us grow up in a culture that looks at gyno visits as something that is taboo or inappropriate. This is not the case in real life. I don’t know how to make this any clearer, but if you have a vagina and are over the age of 18 – whether or not you are sexually active you have to go to the gyno. If you are a mother, you are responsible to talk to your daughter about the importance of cervical health. If you are a young woman whose mother is too uncomfortable to speak to you about cervical health or if you are too uncomfortable to speak to your mother about making a gynecological appointment – learn for yourself. Visit a Planned Parenthood and go get a Pap test (yes, they do more than abortion procedures there). You don’t need health insurance. And lastly, if you are a man dating or married to a woman – you should be talking to your partner about the importance of seeing her gyno at least once a year. Because if you plan on having babies with a woman one day – you’ll both need that cervix to be healthy.