Peek at Your Cervix

With inexpensive equipment, women can get a glimpse of their own cervix prior to the customary 2-year Pap smear.

Take Control of Cervical Cancer Detection


Cervical cancer detection and prevention is an important subject. Without lessons in female human anatomy, people might be content to know that the cervix is somewhere “down there.” Great if you got that much right because there are cervical vertebrae in the neck that are not the focus of this discussion.

Resembling the tip of a baby bottle nipple turned upside down, the cervix is located several inches beyond the vulva, between the uterus and the vaginal tract. In fact, it’s a neck-like opening of the uterus.

During childbirth, the tiny cervix opening, normally the size of a pinhead, can expand to 4 inches (10 cm). The relative seclusion optimizes its location for incubating unexpected problems. A gynecologist can tell if there are any cervical concerns as part of a regularly scheduled visit.

Blame it on bad experiences, modesty, embarrassment, or fear of the unknown; there are women who only visit gynecologists under the most extreme circumstances. If you're a female apprehensive about ob-gyn visits, or are a doula, a midwife, yogini, or just curious between ob-gyn visits, it’s now possible to view your own cervix in the privacy of your home without being a contortionist.

Women regularly interact with private anatomy for personal hygiene. Yet, the average female would likely be disconcerted to see the variable appearances of the cervix throughout the month. An enterprising woman has built a website called Beautiful Cervix Project that depicts a gallery of healthy and abnormal cervixes uploaded by visitors following her instructions for self-examination and photography.

Personal Cervical Cancer Detection

While not encouraging amateur diagnosis, some women may be curious about the health of their cervix. The incentive could be heightened with a family history of cervical cancer or the presentation of these troublesome symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or post-menopause
  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

Abnormal bumps or warts should be evaluated by a medical professional. Most cervical cancers are caused by various strains of the human Papillomavirus (HPV)—a sexually transmitted infection.

Prophylactic HPV vaccinations are only effective if administered during virginity. For this reason, experts recommend Pap smear tests every 2 years starting at age 21. With inexpensive equipment, women can get a glimpse of their own cervix prior to the customary 2-year test, in order to detect anomalies earlier.

Women living with HIV are at a higher risk of cervical cancer and other cervical diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all HIV-positive women get an initial cervical Pap test, and get re-tested 6 months later. If both Pap tests are normal, then these women can follow up with yearly Pap tests.

Those in India without access to expensive tests are being trained to perform a visual examination using a procedure called the vinegar cancer test. Applying diluted vinegar to the cervix temporary alters the color of cancer cells.

More Thorough Professional Exam

During a pelvic exam, a gynecologist can visually inspect the cervix to detect the following:

Abnormalities: A gynecologist can detect any visible abnormalities of the cervix, such as cysts, polyps, or lesions.

Infections: A gynecologist can check for signs of infections of the cervix, such as inflammation or discharge, which may indicate a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a vaginal infection.

Cancer: A gynecologist can detect any abnormal cells on the cervix that may indicate cervical cancer or precancerous changes.

Pregnancy: A gynecologist can tell whether a woman is pregnant by examining the cervix. During pregnancy, the cervix will soften and change in color.

Menstrual cycle: A gynecologist can determine where a woman is in her menstrual cycle based on the appearance of the cervix. For example, the cervix will be higher and softer during ovulation.

Gynecologist Exam During Menstruation

Here are several reasons why a gynecologist may want to examine the cervix during menstruation:

To screen for cervical cancer: A gynecologist may want to perform a Pap smear, which is a test that checks for abnormal cervical cells that could potentially lead to cancer. While it is possible to do a Pap smear during menstruation, the presence of blood can make it more difficult to interpret the results. Therefore, some gynecologists may prefer to wait until after menstruation to perform the test.

To diagnose menstrual disorders: If a woman is experiencing heavy or painful periods, a gynecologist may want to examine the cervix during menstruation to look for any abnormalities that could be contributing to the problem, such as fibroids or polyps.

To assess the effectiveness of treatment: If a woman is being treated for a menstrual disorder or abnormal Pap smear, a gynecologist may want to examine the cervix during menstruation to assess whether the treatment is working.

To rule out other conditions: In some cases, menstrual bleeding can be a symptom of other conditions, such as uterine or cervical cancer. By examining the cervix during menstruation, a gynecologist can rule out these conditions and provide appropriate treatment if necessary.

    Some gynecologists may prefer to wait until after menstruation to perform a cervical examination, as it can be easier to see and interpret the cervix without the presence of blood. However, in some cases, a cervical examination during menstruation may be necessary to provide accurate diagnosis and treatment.

    Do Your Part to Stay Healthy

    The ability to look might satisfy some curiosity or help you to monitor ongoing conditions. But don’t conclude that it replaces the need for regular gynecological examinations.

    Comprehensive human anatomy posters about cervical cancer and the female reproductive system are available in our online store. Whether or not you decide to get up close and personal, if it has been a couple years since your last Pap test, this is a good month to make a gynecological appointment. Granted, this topic may make you feel a bit uncomfortable, but early detection can be life-saving.

    To support the writing of useful articles about women, ClinicalPosters sells human anatomy charts, scientific posters and other products online. You may sponsor specific articles, remit a small donation, or leave an encourag­ing comment to keep the work going. Visible content is optimized for device size.

    Main photo of 28-year old 7 months post polypectomy.

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    Updated: Sep 20, 2023