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What Should I Know About Screening?

A photo of two women

There is no simple and reliable way to test for vaginal or vulvar cancers in women who do not have any signs or symptoms.

Screening is when a test is used to look for a disease before there are any symptoms. Cancer screening tests are effective when they can find disease early, which can lead to more effective treatment. Diagnostic tests are used when a person has symptoms. The purpose of diagnostic tests is to find out, or diagnose, what is causing the symptoms. Diagnostic tests also may be used to check a person who is considered at high risk for cancer.

The Pap test does not screen for vaginal or vulvar cancers. Since there is no simple and reliable way to screen for any gynecologic cancers except cervical cancer, it is especially important to recognize warning signs, and learn what you can do to reduce your risk.

Here are steps you can take—

  • Pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you.
  • If you notice any changes in your body that are not normal for you and could be a sign of either vaginal or vulvar cancer, talk to your doctor about them and ask about possible causes.
  • Visit your doctor regularly for a checkup. During your checkup, your doctor may perform a pelvic examination to look for signs of vaginal and vulvar cancer.

When vaginal and vulvar cancers are found early, treatment works best.

If your doctor says that you have vaginal or vulvar cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist—a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers like these. This doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.

Please visit the National Cancer Institute for more information on vaginal cancer and vulvar cancer.