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Vulvar Cancer: Prevention

There is no sure way to prevent vulvar cancer. Some risk factors for this cancer, such as your age and family history, are not within your control. But you can do some things that may help lower your risk of getting vulvar cancer.

The best things you can do to prevent vulvar cancer are to lower the risks you can control. You should also get regular gynecological exams. Some healthcare providers may also suggest doing self-exams.

What to do to lower your risk for vulvar cancer 

  • Don't get infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) or HIV. You can help prevent HPV infection by not having sex as a preteen or young teen. Having sex with a condom can also help. So can not having sex with many people. And not having sex with people who have had a lot of partners. Condoms give some protection against HPV, but not full protection. But if you use them regularly, they help prevent the spread of HIV and many other sexually transmitted diseases. Talk with your healthcare provider about the vaccine for HPV. Ask if it might be right for you. 

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Do self-exams. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you do regular self-exams to find any changes in your vulva. You can do this by using a mirror once a month to look for any red, irritated, dark, or white spots on your vulva. You should also look for bumps, ulcers, or moles that are new or have changed. See your healthcare provider if you notice any changes.

  • Have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams. Women ages 21 and older should have regular pelvic exams. They should also have regular cervical cancer screening tests. These include Pap tests with or without HPV tests.

Cancer screening tests

Screening tests check for signs of disease in people who don't have any symptoms. That's when healthcare providers can treat any precancers. Or they can find cancers very early. This is when they're small, haven't spread, and can be easier to treat.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that women should have regular checkups to help spot certain gynecologic cancers. Your healthcare provider will look at your vulva during these checkups. Checkups also include a pelvic exam and maybe a Pap test and HPV testing. During a pelvic exam, your healthcare provider will also feel your uterus, vagina, cervix, and other reproductive organs. This is done to check for any changes.

Here are the ACS recommendations for how often you should have Pap tests, HPV tests, and pelvic exams. These are screening guidelines for gynecological cancers if you’re at average risk. Talk with your provider about your risk. If you're at high risk, you may need a different screening plan.

  • All women should have Pap tests starting at age 21.

  • Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years.

  • Women between ages 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test (called co-testing) every 5 years. This is preferred. But it's also OK to keep having Pap tests alone every 3 years.

  • Women older than 65 who have had regular screening with normal results in the past 10 years may stop screening for cervical cancer. Once screening is stopped, it should not be started again.

  • Women who had a serious precancer should continue screening for 20 years after that diagnosis, even if it goes beyond age 65.

  • A woman who has had a hysterectomy with the cervix removed for reasons not related to cervical cancer and no history of cervical cancer, serious precancer, or a damaged immune system, should not be screened.

  • A woman who has had a hysterectomy but still has her cervix should follow the above guidelines based on her age.

  • A woman who has been vaccinated against HPV should still follow the screening guidelines for her age group.

The guidelines for screening tests vary. Annual Pap tests are no longer recommended. But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women older than 21 have yearly pelvic exams.

Online Medical Reviewer: Howard Goodman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kim Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2018
© 2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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