Cervical cancer was once the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Due to increased screening, the number of cervical cancer deaths in the United States has dropped by more than 50% since the 1970s, according to the American Cancer Society.
Led by Dr. Haley Moss, VA’s Breast and Gynecological Oncology System of Excellence is working to transform cancer prevention, treatment and outcomes while continuing to provide coordinated, integrated and compassionate patient-centered healthcare.
“The number of Veterans who are seeking this cancer care at the VA is growing,” Moss said. “Our priority is making sure Veterans can access the type of care they need.”
This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the Breast and Gynecological Oncology System of Excellence wants you to understand how you can reduce your risk through a few lifestyle changes.
Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that is largely preventable. One form of prevention is through regular cervical cancer screenings.
“Getting screened for cervical cancer is vital to long-term health,” Moss said. “When caught through a routine screening, cervical cancer very treatable and Veterans typically have very good outcomes.”
Depending on your age and current health, you can be screened in three-or-five-year increments.
For Veterans between the ages of 21 and 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
- Both the Pap and HPV (human papillomavirus) tests every five years
- An HPV test every five years
Even if you are vaccinated against HPV, you still need to be regularly screened for cervical cancer. If you have had a hysterectomy, it may still be necessary to be screened for cervical cancer. Talk to your provider about your surgical history and any previous cervical screening results.
To lower your risk of developing cervical cancer, remember to:
- Stop smoking (find VA resources on how to quit)
- Get vaccinated against HPV (up to age 45)
- Get screened
- 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 stop smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk for cervical cancer by 50%.
While smoking cigarettes is usually associated with lung cancer, stopping smoking is one of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer. If you need support to stop smoking, every VA medical center offers tobacco cessation counseling and medications. For more information, visit How to Quit, an online resource to help Veterans stop smoking.
Another important step in prevention is to get your HPV vaccine. HPV causes up to 90% of all cervical cancer. You can get your HPV vaccine through your primary care provider, up to the age of 45. Even if you’ve had an abnormal Pap smear, you can get vaccinated against HPV.
When you are screened, 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.
Further, it’s important to tell your health care provider if you’re having any 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 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 gynecological cancer care within VA, visit cancer.va.gov or email email@example.com.