What can I do to reduce my risk?

It is important to recognise the warning signs of gynaecological cancer and learn if there are things you can do to lower your risk.

7 Things you can do to reduce your risk of Gynaecological Cancer

While there is no known way to prevent all types of gynaecological cancer, there are things you can do that may help lower your chance of getting them or help to find them early.  It is important to find gynaecological cancers early, when treatment can be most effective.


1. Know your body

Pay attention to your body and know what's normal for you.

Be aware, symptoms of gynaecological cancer can be vague and are often experienced by many women.

Gynaecological cancer symptoms

Cervical Endometrial
Vaginal Vulvar
Pelvic pain or pressure O
Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
Abdominal or back pain
Pain during sex
Changes in bathroom habits O O
Itching or burning of the vulva O
Changes in vulva colour or skin, such as a rash, sores or warts O


If any of these happen to you in a way that is unusual or persistent over time, ask your GP for a referral to a Gynaecological Oncologist.  


2. Don’t ignore the symptoms

There are so many cultural and social taboos around talking about our intimate parts. In fact, many women can’t even bring themselves to say the words “vulva”, “vagina” or even “uterus”.

Many gynaecological cancers have better survival rates if diagnosed early so ignoring the symptoms can be lethal.

It might be embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about your gynaecological health but if your symptoms don’t go away, go and see another GP!

Many women visit a GP four or five times with these vague symptoms before finally getting that referral they need. So trust your instincts if you feel something is not right “down there”. 

Statistics show that the best survival outcomes are associated with a GP referral to a Gynaecological Oncologist.

Please, don’t ignore the symptoms. A woman never died of embarrassment, but women do die each year from gynaecological cancer.


3. Get vaccinated

The HPV vaccine.  It is free!  It is offered to boys and girls in year 7 or 8 at school.  

The vaccine protects against the 9 most common types of HPV but doesn't cover all of them. 

Even if women have been vaccinated, they will still need to have regular cervical screening, because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV implicated in cervical cancer.

Over 205 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been distributed worldwide.


4. Get a regular Cervical Smear

Most cervical cancers develop from an infection - called HPV, or the human papillomavirus - that almost everybody is exposed to if they have had sex.  But with regular smear tests it can be detected before it becomes cancer.

Cervical cancer is the only cancer for which there is screening, and you should be having regular screening even if you have had the HPV vaccine.

The current guidelines are for a smear test is every 3 years. This is a test that looks for abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which are often caused by the (HPV) Human Papillomavirus, which is known to cause cervical, throat, penile and other cancers.

Smear tests save lives.


5. Lose weight

There's a problem with being overweight and obesity, it's on the rise and is the most common cause of endometrial cancer which develops in the lining of the uterus.

Endometrial cancer is most strongly linked to obesity, yet the body weight and endometrial cancer isn't high on our radar.

Rates of this cancer have increased over the last two decades in New Zealand because of the rise in obesity.  This same rise in obesity is also driving an increase in the numbers of younger women under 40 affected by the disease.

4 in 10 cases of endometrial cancer can be prevented by reducing BMI.

Getting started with your weight loss plan

  • Have a plan
  • Adopt more healthy eating practices (what and how you eat and drink)
  • Get active and get enough sleep
  • Monitor your progress

Download the tips as a PDF document -

Getting started with our weight loss plan


6. Know your elders

In some cases, knowing whether there is a family history of cancer can indicate a genetic risk factor for cancer, and can make you eligible for gene testing.

We know now that ovarian cancers that are BRCAm positive respond better to some treatments than others.

Ovarian cancer has traditionally been considered as one type of cancer but recent research has revealed there are 7 molecular subtypes, and each is likely to respond differently to different treatments. ANZGOG (Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group is doing more research in this area to fast-track improved outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.


7. Exercise & quit smoking

Being physically active on most days is an important part of being healthy.  Many people know that being active helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, stroke and weight gain, but they do not always realise it is also important for reducing cancer risk. Daily physical activity can reduce the risk.  Being physically active is an important part of managing a healthy weight and losing excess weight.


Quit Smoking - every hour, day, week, month and year that you go without smoking, your health will improve. You will feel immediate benefits when you quit as your body starts to repair itself.  Quitting at any age is beneficial and not only increases life expectancy; it also improves quality of life.  Since we know that tobacco use is linked to some types of gynaecological cancer, avoiding smoking is a good risk reduction strategy.  Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of not only gynaecological cancer but many other types of diseases and conditions as well.


Remember, some women still develop gynaecological cancer despite avoiding the risks.  Risk reduction is effective but is not guaranteed method of prevention. 

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