A shift from treatment to prevention of the three major gynecologic cancers is overdue. The traditional approach to cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancers has been secondary or tertiary prevention--early detection and treatment or mitigation of damage, respectively. We reviewed the literature on these cancers to identify strategies for primary prevention. Cervical cancer behaves as a sexually transmitted disease. As with other such diseases, barrier and spermicidal contraceptives lower the risk of cervical cancer; the risk reduction approximates 50%. Combination oral contraceptives help prevent both endometrial and epithelial ovarian cancers. The risk of endometrial cancer among former oral contraceptive users is reduced by about 50% and that of ovarian cancer by about 30% to 60%. Weight control confers strong protection against endometrial cancer. Breast-feeding and tubal sterilization also appear to protect against ovarian cancer. Although women have a range of practical, effective measures available to reduce their risk of these cancers, few are aware of them. Without this information, women cannot make fully informed decisions about their health.