VA preventive measures to reduce the risk of cervical cancer

Share on Facebook Share on X Share on LinkedIn

WASHINGTON, February 1, 2024 - Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally and is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44.

Dr. Haley Moss is a gynecologic oncologist and the director of VA’s National TeleOncology’s Breast and Gynecologic Oncology System of Excellence program. The program is currently available at 82 VA facilities and provides support and resources to Veterans with breast or gynecologic cancer, which includes cervical cancer.

“Cervical cancer is in most cases a completely preventable cancer if patients are following up with their primary care physician or gynecologist about preventative measures,” Moss said. “If it is diagnosed early enough, it is very curable with surgery alone.”

Providing medical expertise and resources

Cancer diagnoses and treatment often disrupt a patient’s life and introduce new challenges. The Breast and Gynecologic Oncologic System of Excellence provides personalized support to Veterans whether they choose to receive care through VA or a community provider.

After a Veteran joins the program, a nurse navigator will contact them to learn more about their diagnosis and any barriers to care they face. The nurse navigator will then share relevant VA resources, such as programs that offer transportation to medical facilities.

Staff use telehealth to connect Veterans with oncologists and other specialists anywhere in the country. Veterans can elect to meet with a VA provider to talk about their diagnosis or receive a second opinion.

“That’s pretty huge, especially if a Veteran is seeking care outside of VA and they don’t have the opportunity to seek second opinions from other providers,” Moss said.

Veterans in the program can also find community through the recently launched virtual support groups. These support groups are led by a peer support specialist and are the first national support groups for Veterans who have breast or gynecologic cancer diagnoses.

“Veterans can meet other Veterans who are going through a similar experience. Even though there are so many cancer support groups nationally, Veterans have a really unique experience, and so this provides a safe place,” she continued.

Preventive measures

Almost 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV infections. HPV infections can also lead to anal, penile and throat cancers.

The HPV vaccine is extremely effective at preventing HPV infections. VA offers HPV vaccines to all Veterans, male and female, up until the age of 45.

Veterans should also be receiving regular cervical cancer screenings. This includes a Pap test (commonly referred to as a “Pap smear”) and an HPV test. These tests are critical in detecting abnormal cells that may be the first sign of cervical cancer. Most people should receive screenings every three to five years, though the guidance may differ depending on age and medical history.

“We could almost eliminate cervical cancer in the United States if everyone was vaccinated with the HPV vaccine. Even if a Veteran has had an abnormal Pap smear, they can still get vaccinated with the HPV vaccine,” Moss added.

Veterans who have not yet received the HPV vaccine or regular screenings should contact their VA care team or primary care physician. Veterans can privately contact their VA care team using the Secure Messaging feature on My HealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal. Veterans can also view their vaccination records on My HealtheVet.

To learn more about cervical care resources at VA, Veterans can contact their VA provider or visit VA’s National Oncology Program page.