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Study Shows Women Who Received Cancer Screening Invitation Letters Are More Likely to Have a Pap Test

August 5, 2016

3 min read

Receiving an invitation to get screened for cervical cancer is associated with a greater likelihood of getting screened, according to a new study published in the July edition of the journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study – co-authored by Dr. Rachel Kupets, Scientific Lead for the Ontario Cervical Screening Program (OCSP) – explored the impact of invitation and reminder letters on cervical cancer screening participation among approximately 1.15 million eligible Ontario women 30 to 69 years of age. The findings showed that women who were mailed invitations were at least 1.7 times more likely to have a Pap test than those who did not receive an invitation.

Since 2013, Cancer Care Ontario has sent direct-mail correspondence letters to reach Ontarians who are eligible for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer screening. Women aged 30 to 69 are sent a letter inviting them to get screened for cervical cancer through the OCSP.

“Increasing screening rates is critical to reducing the burden of cancer in the province,” says Dr. Linda Rabeneck, Vice-President, Prevention and Cancer Control, Cancer Care Ontario. “This study demonstrates the importance of reaching out to Ontarians directly to invite them to get screened.”

Regular cervical screening helps to prevent cervical cancer and ensures that more cancers are caught earlier, when there are more treatment options and a better chance of survival.

Additional study findings:

  • In total, 153,617 women (13.3%) were screened within 9 months after their letters were mailed. · Women with no Pap test in the previous 5 years were less likely to participate.
  • Out of women who had a Pap test 3 to 5 years prior, approximately 26.7% were screened within 9 months after receiving a letter. Out of women who had no Pap test in the previous 5 years, approximately 9.8% were screened within 9 months after receiving a letter.
  • Age and rostering to a Patient Enrolment Physician practice were associated with having a Pap test. The women in the study receiving a Pap test after receiving an invitation letter tended to be younger (30 to 39 years of age).

“Although correspondence letters are widely used in other jurisdictions throughout the world and have been proven to be successful in increasing screening rates, this research provided one of the first opportunities to address the impact in a large population-based screening program,” says Dr. Rachel Kupets, Scientific Lead, Ontario Cervical Screening Program, Cancer Care Ontario. “The findings will help inform our efforts as we look to further increase participation and remove barriers to screening.”

Organized screening programs provide important benefits by ensuring that appropriate populations are screened, ensuring appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal findings, and providing ongoing quality monitoring and management.

Between 2011 and 2013, 4.3 million women in Ontario were eligible for cervical cancer screening, but only 62% got screened with a Pap test. A Pap test is a simple screening test that looks for abnormal cervical cell changes, and detects the early changes that might lead to cervical cancer. In 2015, approximately 640 women in Ontario were diagnosed with cervical cancer and an estimated 150 died from the disease.

Most cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have never been screened or have not been screened regularly. Women aged 21 to 69 should get screened for cancer with a Pap test every 3 years if they are or have ever been sexually active. Screening may be discontinued at the age of 70 if there have been 3 negative Pap tests in the previous 10 years.

Related Links

  • Find more information about the types of cancer screening letters that are sent to eligible Ontarians, or view this video.
  • If you have questions about a letter that you receive, please contact us at 1.866.662.9233.
  • To determine your personal cancer risk, visit today.