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In the Spotlight

Early Detection for Cervical Cancer

When should you be screened?

A Veteran talking to a VA health care professional about cervical cancer The new year is here, and VA is reminding Veterans that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. It's a great time to raise awareness about cervical health and the importance of getting regular screenings.

Early detection can save your life

Cancer that starts in cells of the cervix is called cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can spread from the cervix to nearby organs or spread to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. The more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Cervical cancer was once the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Since more people are being screened, the number of cervical cancer deaths in the United States has dropped by more than 50%.

Cervical cancer screening

Cervical cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if found early. A Pap smear looks for cancer and pre-cancerous cervical cells. Most cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Testing for this can be done with women’s health providers. Finding HPV may lead to early detection which can stop cancer spread.

In addition to screening, there's a vaccination to prevent HPV infection. It's most effective if given during childhood, but adults can benefit from it, too.

Questions to ask

These are some of the most helpful questions to ask during your next visit:

  • How often do I need a Pap or HPV test, or both?

  • If my test is abnormal, how will I be contacted?

  • Should I receive the HPV vaccine?

When should I be screened?

Depending on your age and current health, you can be screened every three or five years. For women Veterans between the ages of 21 and 29, VA recommends a Pap test every three years.

For women Veterans between the ages of 30 and 65, it may be recommended every three or five years between tests. Have a discussion with your provider about the recommended schedule for you.

Always update your provider on any Pap smear or HPV tests that you have had in the past that were not normal. This is very important in determining when you should get your next test.

My HealtheVet and screening

Speak to your VA health care team about how to schedule a cervical cancer screening, a Pap test, or an HPV test at your local VA facility as soon as possible if you have concerns. Your results can be viewed in a Blue Button report. Veterans with a Premium account can see radiologists' notes from such screenings.

Screening doesn't prevent cancer, but it can save your life by finding cancer as early as possible. Contact your doctor by using My HealtheVet's Secure Messaging if you're interested in setting up an appointment.

Remember: You can text the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-VA-WOMEN, chat online via real-time messaging, or visit for more information.

Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

Have you been screened for cervical cancer in the past 3-5 years (depending on your age)?

Read More

What Is Cervical Cancer? (Veterans Health Library)

Women Veterans Health Care (VA)

Get Recommended Screening Tests and Immunizations for Women (VA)

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (American Cancer Society)

Updated January 10, 2022