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PAP Test and Gynecologic Cancer

It can be tough to talk with your health care provider about gynecologic concerns. But your questions are important to be sure you get the information and care you need to detect and treat gynecologic cancers. VA provides the care you need and deserve.

Types of gynecologic cancer

Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that begins in your reproductive organs: the cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina, and vulva. These cancers are more easily treated if detected early.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer can be detected by screening. Screening can be performed through a Pap test, HPV testing, or both. The Pap test can show pre-cancerous cells that can be removed before the onset of cancer.

Women aged 21-29 should have a Pap test every three years. Women aged 30-65 have several options:

  1. A Pap test every three years
  2. A test for human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, every five years
  3. A Pap and HPV test together (called co-testing) every five years

Women 26 years old or younger may also get the HPV vaccine, which can prevent cervical cancer. Discuss the vaccine with your health care provider if you are older than 26 and are interested in the HPV vaccine.

Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer means cancer of the uterus. It may also be called endometrial cancer. It is the most common gynecologic cancer and the number of women who develop uterine cancer each year is rising. The reasons are unclear but appear to be linked to an increase in obesity, especially in older women. Black women are nearly twice as likely to die of uterine cancer as white women. The most common symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal bleeding. Abnormal bleeding includes bleeding after intercourse and any bleeding, even a small spot, in post-menopausal women. Women should see their health care provider about any type of abnormal bleeding.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer causes more deaths each year than any other gynecologic cancer. It occurs more often in older women and is treatable when caught early. The symptoms, which can be subtle, include abnormal bleeding, pelvic or back pain, bloating, feeling full quickly when eating, and a change in bathroom habits. If any of these last two weeks or longer, please talk with your health care provider.

Having certain genes may raise your risk for ovarian cancer. You may want to ask your health care provider about genetic testing if you have a family history of cancer.

Vaginal and Vulvar Cancer

Cancers of the vagina or vulva are rare. Vaginal cancer is marked by pelvic pain, discharge or bleeding, or a change in bathroom habits. Vulvar cancer, which usually appears on the labia outside the vagina, often causes a sore and itching. (Other conditions, such as herpes, can also cause sores and itching.) The risk of both vaginal and vulvar cancers may be lessened with an HPV vaccine.

What services does VA provide for gynecologic cancer?

At VA, women can receive their Pap tests and HPV vaccines from their primary care provider. If your Pap test comes back abnormal, your provider will let you know the next steps for potential additional screening. If your provider determines you need to see a gynecologic specialist or an oncologist (cancer specialist), they can refer to you one at your VA medical center or at a health care facility in your community. These specialists will work with your primary care provider to develop a treatment and care plan for gynecologic cancer.

You may always request a specific gender of health care provider to examine and treat you, both at VA and if VA refers you to community care.

How do I access services for gynecologic cancer at VA?

Contact your local VA medical center to make an appointment or use the MyHealtheVet app. The Women Veterans Program Manager (WVPM) at your local VA medical center can help you schedule your care or any screenings you need. Call your local VA medical center and ask for the WVPM.

If you don't already use VA health care, you you may want to use the following online tools:

Find out if you are eligible for VA health care.

Enroll in VA health care if you haven't already.

Find your local VA and make an appointment.

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The Women Veterans Call Center is your guide to women's health

If you have questions or can't find what you're looking for, you can call, text, or chat online with the Women Veterans Call Center (WVCC) at 855-829-6636 to get help and find available resources and services in your area. Trained women representatives can also help you with issues such as:

  • Enrolling in VA health care if you have not already
  • Setting up a medical appointment in your area
  • Answering questions about eligibility (including questions about disability ratings) and other VA benefits like employment, education, and home loans

WVCC representatives are available Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET, and Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

Can I get disability compensation (monthly payments) or other benefits from VA related to gynecologic cancer?

Explore disability eligibility here. If you have questions, a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) representative at your nearest regional office can explain more. Find your nearest regional office.

Where can I find more information, help and resources on gynecologic cancers?

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