By Laura McDonald
– March 2022 –
It is important to take care of your health every day, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of staying healthy includes getting a regular Pap test. A Pap test only takes a few minutes and it checks for early signs of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer affects hundreds of people each year in Ontario. In 2020, approximately 550 people in Ontario were diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 185 people died from it. According to Dr. Lisa Del Giudice, who works for the Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, “cervical cancer can almost always be prevented with regular cervical screening, follow-up of abnormal results and vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV).”
About cervical cancer:
Cervical cancer can affect anyone with a cervix who has ever been sexually active. People should go for cervical screening 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 had the HPV vaccine
Certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. HPV is passed from one person to another through sexual contact with a partner of any gender. Sexual contact is when someone has sex with another person or touches another person’s genitals (private parts) with their mouth or hand. HPV infections are common and up to 80% of sexually active people will have an HPV infection in their lifetime.
HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. Over many years, these cell changes can sometimes lead to cervical cancer. The good news is these cell changes can be treated before they cause cervical cancer if they are found early through screening.
Who should be screened for cervical cancer?
The Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program, in partnership with Ontario Health, recommends a Pap test every three years if you:
- Have a cervix
- Are or have ever been sexually active*
- Are ages 25 to 70 years
*Sexual activity is when someone has sex with another person or touches another person’s genitals (private parts) with their mouth or hand.
Be sure to talk to your doctor, nurse practitioner or midwife about getting checked with a Pap test to help prevent cervical cancer. Getting checked for cancer regularly leads to healthier lives for you, your loved ones and your community.
For more information about cervical screening, please visit www.cancercareontario.ca/ccaw.
If you do not have a family doctor or nurse practitioner, you can get screened at some public health units, sexual health clinics or walk-in-clinics. The Ministry of Health’s Health Care Connect Program may help you find a doctor or nurse practitioner. Visit Health Care Connect for more information. For Indigenous-led health centres, visit iphcc.ca/home/iphcc_members/ and afhto.ca/find-team-near-you.
*Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program, Cancer Screening
*Dr. Lisa Del Giudice
Regional Primary Care Lead – Cancer Screening, Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program
Family Physician, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Academic Family Health Team