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What is the Cervix?

What Women Need to Know About the Cervix

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Updated June 18, 2014

Women commonly talk about the cervix in relation to having a Pap smear or child birth, however many are unaware of what the cervix is and it's function. The cervix plays an important role in the female reproduction system.

What You Need to Know About Your Cervix

The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus. It dilates (widens) during child birth to allow the passage of a baby. The cervix also allows the passage of menstrual fluid from the uterus. Sperm also need to travel through the cervix to reach the uterus. The cervix is approximately two inches long and is tubular in shape.

The cervix is vulnerable to several health conditions, such a chronic inflammation, polyps, dysplasia, and cancer. Unfortunately, cervical conditions rarely present symptoms in the early stages, therefor a regular Pap smear is vital for optimum cervical health. A Pap smear can identify abnormal cervical changes long before they become cancerous.

Anatomy of the Cervix

Although the cervix is only about two inches long, several key components that contribute to cervical function. These areas of the cervix are often discussed during pregnancy, Pap smears, and colposcopies. It is important to become familiar so you can understand possible changes occurring with the cervix and to also understand tests, like the Pap smear or colposcopy.

  • Endocervical Canal: the potential space in the center of the tube of tissue that is the cervix. During a colposcopy, the doctor may take a sample of cells in the endocervical canal. This is called an endocervical curettage (ECC).

  • Ectocervix: lower part of the cervix that protrudes into the vagina.

  • Internal Os: part of the cervix closest to the main body of the uterus. During pregnancy and child birth, you may hear the doctor speak about the "os."

  • External Os: the opening of the ectocervix.

  • Transformation Zone: also called the "TZ" for short. This is the area of the cervix where cervical dysplasia commonly occurs. The transformation zone is often discussed during colposcopies.
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