Reduce your risk of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer-related death in women. Due to increased screening, the number of cervical cancer deaths in the United States has fallen by more than 50% since the 1970s, according to the American Cancer Society.

Led by Dr. Haley Moss, the VA Breast and Gynecologic Oncology System of Excellence strives to transform cancer prevention, treatment, and outcomes while continuing to provide coordinated, integrated, and compassionate health care centered on the patient.

“The number of veterans seeking this cancer care at the VA is growing,” Moss said. “Our priority is to make sure veterans can access the kind of care they need.

This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the System of Excellence in Gynecologic and Breast Oncology wants you to understand how you can reduce your risk by changing a few lifestyle habits.

Screening

Cervical cancer is one of the few largely preventable cancers. One form of prevention is to have regular cervical cancer screenings.

“Getting screened for cervical cancer is vital for long-term health,” Moss said. “When caught unawares on routine screening, cervical cancer is highly treatable and veterans generally have very good outcomes.”

Depending on your age and current state of health, you may be screened in three or five year increments.

For veterans ages 21 to 29, VA recommends a Pap test every three years.

For veterans between the ages of 30 and 65, VA recommends one of three options:

  • A Pap test every three years
  • Pap and HPV (human papillomavirus) tests every five years
  • An HPV test every five years

Even if you are vaccinated against HPV, you should still be screened regularly for cervical cancer. If you have had a hysterectomy, you may need to be screened for cervical cancer. Tell your provider about your surgical history and any previous cervical screening results.

Prevention

To reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer, remember to:

  • Quit Smoking (find VA resources on how to quit)
  • Get vaccinated against HPV (up to age 45)
  • Get tested
  • Share your family history with your provider
  • Report any irregular bleeding or pelvic pain

One of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer is to quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of cervical cancer by 50%.

Although smoking cigarettes is commonly associated with lung cancer, quitting smoking is one of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer. If you need help quitting smoking, every VA medical center offers quit smoking counseling and medication. For more information, visit How to Quit Smoking, an online resource to help veterans quit smoking.

Another important prevention step is to get vaccinated against HPV. HPV causes up to 90% of all cervical cancers. You can get the HPV vaccine through your primary care provider until age 45. Even if you had an abnormal Pap test, you can get the HPV vaccine.

When screening, be sure to share your family history of cancer. If your parent, sibling, or child has had breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer, your provider needs to know.

Also, it is important to tell your health care provider if you have irregular bleeding or pelvic pain.

Schedule your screening today

Speak to your VA provider today about how to schedule a cervical cancer screening, your Pap test and/or HPV test at your local VA facility. You can find your local VA medical facility by visiting VA.gov: Find Locations.

If you have questions about gynecologic cancer care within VA, visit cancer.va.gov or email [email protected]

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