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Cervical Cancer is Most Often Found in Women Who Do Not Get Regular Pap Tests

October 13, 2017

3 min read

October 16 to 20 is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, and Cancer Care Ontario is encouraging women to stay up-to-date with regular Pap tests. It is estimated that in 2017, about 710 women in Ontario will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 150 women will die from the disease. The Ontario Cervical Screening Program (OCSP) recommends that women ages 21 to 69 get screened for cervical cancer every 3 years if they are or have ever been sexually active.

"Most cervical cancers are found in women who have never been screened or have been screened less often than recommended by Ontario’s cervical screening guidelines. This is why screening is so important," said Dr. Joan Murphy, Clinical Lead, Ontario Cervical Screening Program, Cancer Care Ontario. "We see screening participation start to decline after age 50 even though the risk of cervical cancer remains, so women should continue to get screened until at least age 69."

Cervical cancer can affect anyone with a cervix who has ever been sexually active. It is recommended that women ages 21 to 69 have regular Pap tests, even if they:

  • feel healthy and have no symptoms
  • are no longer sexually active
  • have only had one partner
  • are in a same-sex relationship
  • have been through menopause
  • have no family history of cervical cancer
  • have received the HPV vaccine

"Cervical cancer can be successfully prevented with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, regular screening, and appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal results," said Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. "Regular screening is the best way to find early changes and prevent cervical cancer."

HPV infections are common, and up to 80% of sexually active men and women will have an HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV is passed from one person to another through intimate (i.e., skin to skin) sexual contact. While there are many types of the virus, only specific strains of HPV put a woman at risk for cervical cancer. HPV infections can result in an abnormal Pap test and infections commonly go away without causing any harm. If a cancer-causing HPV infection persists, it can lead to cervical cancer even among women in their 50s and 60s. Regular screening every 3 years can detect abnormal cells, which when treated, can prevent cancer from developing.

Women ages 21 to 69 are encouraged to speak with their healthcare providers about getting screened for cervical cancer.

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