Can gynecologic cancers be prevented?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

While you may not be able to entirely prevent gynecologic cancers, you can lower your risk by taking certain precautions. Using birth control pills, having a baby and breastfeeding can decrease your risk of certain gynecologic cancers, such as ovarian cancer. Regular pelvic exams and Pap smears can help identify some cellular mutations before they become cancerous. Avoid tobacco, minimize your number of sexual partners or use a latex condom during intercourse, and get vaccinated against HPV.

Dr. Sharyn N. Lewin, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)
Although there is no sure way to prevent all types of gynecologic cancers, these easy steps will help:
  1. Know your body and pay attention to what is normal! If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding for over 2 weeks, consult you doctor.
  2. Find out about the medical conditions in your family and share these with your doctor. Many cancers like breast and ovary are inherited.
  3. Live healthfully: No smoking, exercise routinely, keep you weight down, and eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  4. Get a routine Pap smear
  5. Get the HPV vaccine when it's recommended

Gynecologic cancers start in a woman's cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina, vulva, or, rarely, fallopian tubes. You can take steps to prevent some of these cancers.

Pap tests can find abnormal cells that may turn into cervical cancer. Removal of the abnormal cells prevents cervical cancer. Pap tests can also find cervical cancer early, when the chance of being cured is very high. The only cancer for which the Pap test screens is cervical cancer. It does not screen for ovarian, uterine, vaginal, or vulvar cancers.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is available for girls and women who are 9 to 26 years old. It protects against most types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.

In addition to the Pap test, the HPV test may be used for screening women who are 30 years old or older, or at any age for those who have unclear Pap test results.

Dr. Kathleen D. Mahoney, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

The answer is YES - many Gyn cancers can be prevented. The most common Gyn cancer (not counting breast cancer) is endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer is a type of uterine cancer and is more common in post-menopausal women, although pre- and peri- menopausal women can get it also. It is very curable, and usually is diagnosed when a woman notes abnormal menstrual bleeding. Endometrial cancer is so very common in the United States because obesity is its major risk factor. Certainly women at their ideal body weight can get it as well, but the heavier a woman is the higher her chance of getting this disease. Keeping your weight down helps prevent endometrial cancer and many other cancers.

Cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers are mostly caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). This virus is extremely common, and although most women who get the virus do NOT get any of these cancers, preventing infection from this virus will help further reduce the chance of getting cancer from this virus. HPV's ability to transform cells into cancer is dramatically reduced by this vaccine. Also cigarette smoking is another risk in developing cervical and vaginal cancers so reducing exposure to cigarette smoke, including second hand smoke, can help lower the risk as well.

And lastly, ovarian cancer is a very deadly disease, and women with a past and current use of birth control pills (also the ring and the patch, and likely other hormonal methods too) dramatically reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Breast feeding reduces ovarian and endometrial cancer risk too.

Although Gynecological cancer is frightening, as is any cancer diagnosis, there are many things women can do to reduce our risk of getting some of them!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.