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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 there are some things you can do 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. In some cases, healthcare providers also suggest doing self-exams.

Things you can do to help lower your risk for vulvar cancer 

Avoid human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV infection. You can help prevent HPV by not having sex as a preteen or young teen. Having sex with a condom can also help. So can avoiding sex with many people or with people who have had a lot of partners.

Note that condoms provide some protection against HPV, but not full protection. Even so, if you use them regularly, they help prevent the spread of HIV and many other sexually transmitted diseases. You should talk to your healthcare provider about vaccines to help prevent HPV infection. Ask if one of them 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. Tell your healthcare provider about anything abnormal.

  • Have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams. Women who are age 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.

Screening tests check for signs of disease in people who don't have any symptoms. That's when healthcare providers can treat any pre-cancers. Or they can find cancers very early when they can be treated better.

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. These 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 the screening guidelines for gynecological cancers if you’re at average risk:

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

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

  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test (called co-testing) every five years. This is the preferred approach. But it's also acceptable to continue to have Pap tests alone every three years.

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

  • A woman who had had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix for reasons not related to cervical cancer and who has no history of cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer should not be screened.

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

The guidelines for screening tests vary. It’s important to note that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women older than 21 years of age should have yearly pelvic exams.

Online Medical Reviewer: Goodman, Howard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 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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