Here are ways to help prevent gynecologic cancer or catch it early.
Get up-to-date with doctor visits.
Many people got off track with checkups and screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others simply stop getting pelvic exams after their childbearing years. But sometimes an early-stage cancer can be felt with such exams, including among patients who are 70 and older (people with the highest risk for some gynecologic cancers), says Dr. Chapman. Cervical cancer screenings also are important, including for older people who have new sexual partners.
Ask for the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for children ages 9 to 12, before they have been exposed to the virus. But the FDA has approved this cancer-prevention shot up to age 45. Although it may not be as effective as it is in those who get the shot when they are young, it can provide some protection against cervical cancer, as well as head, neck, and throat cancers, Dr. Chapman says, so discuss it with your doctor.
Tell your doctor your family cancer history.
If breast or gynecologic cancers run in your family, consider genetic testing. For example, people with certain genetic mutations, like BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, have a greater risk for ovarian as well as breast cancer. Those with Lynch syndrome have an increased risk for ovarian and uterine cancer. If your family history includes these cancers, your doctor may do more frequent screenings and discuss options that can lower your risk of getting cancer.
Trust yourself and speak up.
You know your body better than anyone, says Dr. Chapman. “Stay in tune with your body,” she says, and raise with your doctor anything that’s unusual for you. Make sure you are a strong self-advocate and that your questions are answered and your concerns addressed. “It’s important to be persistent.”