Starting at age 21, women who are or have ever been sexually active, are encouraged to talk to their health care provider about getting screening for cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, regular screening, and appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal results.
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is located at the opening of the uterus.
Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infections of cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a virus that is passed from one person to another through intimate sexual activity and genital skin-to-skin contact. HPV infections are common and most sexually active men and women will acquire an HPV infection in their lifetime.
HPV is a very common Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and in most cases there are no symptoms that someone has been infected. Most women with HPV infection do not develop cervical cancer. Most women are able to fight the infection without treatment. However sometimes this does not happen and HPV infection stays within the body, which over time can lead to cervical cancer.
A Pap test is the only way to detect the early changes that might lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is not as common as other cancers (such as breast, lung, colorectal, etc.) but it is almost entirely preventable with regular screening, appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal results and HPV immunization.
“Most cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have never been screened or have not been screened regularly. Knowing this, it’s so important for women to make sure they are up to date with their screening. “ - Dr. Amanda Hey, Regional Primary Care Lead Northeast Cancer Centre
Meet Shirley, a cervical cancer survivor. Click on image below to hear her story.
Cervical cancer screening is recommended for women aged 21 to 69 every 3 years if they are or have ever been sexually active. Sexual activity includes intercourse, as well as intimate skin to skin contact, including oral sexual activity involving the genital area with a partner of either gender. Women who are not sexually active by 21 years of age should delay cervical cancer screening until they become sexually active.
Screening can stop at 70 years of age in women who have been regularly screened and have had three or more normal tests in the prior 10 years.
To get screened for cervical cancer, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Some local walk-in clinics also provide Pap tests.
If you don’t have a healthcare provider, such as a family doctor or nurse practitioner and would like to find one, please click here.
A Pap test is a simple screening test that can help prevent cervical cancer. The test looks for abnormal cervical cell changes, but it does NOT test for other cancers in the reproductive organs, such as ovarian cancer, or for sexually-transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
An instrument called a speculum is inserted into a woman’s vagina so her cervix can be seen by the healthcare provider . Cells are then taken from the cervix with a small brush-like instrument and are sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.
Instructions on how to prepare
Both you and your health care provider will get a letter with your results.
If your Pap test results are normal, you will get a letter to remind you when you are due for your next screening test in 3 years.
Sometimes further tests may be necessary, but this does not mean you have cervical cancer. Most women needing more testing will not have cervical cancer.
For more information about cervical cancer screening click here.