Gynecologic cancers are often found during annual wellness exams that a woman has with her primary care or OB/GYN provider. These same physicians and providers should be the first appointment for women who have any type of symptoms such as pelvic or abnormal pain or abnormal bleeding. In addition to physical exams and diagnostic imaging that may be used to diagnose symptoms or problems, there are two screening tests that are used very commonly in preventive visits as well: Pap and HPV tests for the early detection of cervical cancers.
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.
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.
Since there is no simple and reliable way to screen for any gynecologic cancers except cervical cancer, it is especially important to recognize warning signs and learn if there are things you can do to reduce your risk. Talk with your doctor if you believe that you are at increased risk for gynecologic cancer. Ask what you might do to lower your risk and whether there are tests that you should have.