How can I help prevent gynecologic cancer or find it early?

While there is no known way to prevent all types of gynecologic cancer, there are things you can do that may help lower your chance of getting them or help to find them early. It is important to find gynecologic cancers early, when treatment can be most effective.

  • Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you have any abnormal vaginal bleeding, or if you have any other signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancer for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you, talk to a doctor right away. The symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. For overall good health, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables; exercise regularly; maintain a healthy weight; avoid smoking; and practice safe sex.
  • Know your family health history. Share it with your doctor.
  • Get the HPV vaccine, if you are at an age when it is recommended. It protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is given in a series of three shots. The vaccine is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls. (Note: The vaccine can be given to girls beginning at age 9.) It also is recommended for girls and women aged 13 through 26 years who did
    not get any or all of the shots when they were younger.
  • Get regular Pap tests. Pap tests (or Pap smears) are one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. Pap tests can find precancerous changes on the cervix that can be treated so that cervical cancer is prevented. A Pap test can also find cervical cancer early, when treatment is most effective. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.
  • Get the HPV test, if it is recommended by your doctor.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer campaign

Pap test. The Pap test can find precancerous changes on the cervix that can be treated to prevent cervical cancer. A Pap test also can find cervical cancer early, when treatment is most effective. Current recommendations indicate that women should start getting regular Pap tests at age 21.

The Pap test does NOT screen for ovarian, uterine, vaginal, or vulvar
cancers. Even if you have a Pap test regularly, see your doctor if you
notice any signs or symptoms that are not normal for you.

HPV test. The HPV test looks for HPV infection. This test may be used with the Pap test to screen for cervical cancer in women aged 30 years and older. It also is used to provide more information when a Pap test has unclear results. If you have HPV, follow your doctor’s advice for further testing.