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Can I Get Checked for Vulvar Cancer Before I Have Symptoms?

Doctor and patient talking
Ask your doctor how often you should have a Pap test, HPV test, and pelvic exam. These tests can help spot certain vulvar, vaginal, and cervical cancers.

Screening tests check for signs of disease in people who don't have any symptoms. That's when doctors can treat any precancer or cancer cells more successfully.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that women have regular checkups to help spot certain gynecologic cancers. Doctors examine the vulva during these checkups, which also include a pelvic exam and may include a Pap test and HPV testing.

Here are the ACS general recommendations for how often you should have Pap tests, HPV tests, and pelvic exams to screen for gynecological cancers if you are at average risk:

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

  • Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test at least 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 is 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 not be screened for cervical cancer. Once screening is stopped, it should not be started again. 

  • A woman who has 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 precancer should not be screened.

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

Although there are different guidelines regarding the use of screening tests, 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: Akin, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 6/30/2014
© 2013 Krames StayWell, 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.