“Pap smears don’t check for or find endometrial cancer, and most women who get it have normal Paps,” says Nita Karnik Lee, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine. In order to detect the disease, your doctor would have to order a transvaginal ultrasound or CT scan (along with a biopsy)—which of course isn’t standard or advisable unless there’s a strong reason to suspect you might have cancer.
To protect yourself, start by knowing your risk factors: You can get endometrial cancer anytime, but it’s most common between ages 45-74. Being overweight, having diabetes, and taking estrogen-only hormones ups your risk. So does going through menopause later than normal or having gotten your first period at an extra young age.
But the most important thing you can do, really, is to know the warning signs. (If you catch endometrial cancer early, it’s highly curable.)