October 15 to 19 is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, and the South West Regional Cancer Program, in partnership with Cancer Care Ontario, is encouraging women to stay up-to-date with regular Pap tests. It is estimated that in 2018, about 748 women in Ontario will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 160 women will die from the disease.
The Ontario Cervical Screening Program (OCSP), recommends that people between the ages of 21 and 69 who have a cervix should go for cervical screening every three years if they are or have ever been sexually active. Screening is the best way to find the early cell changes that might lead to cervical cancer without exhibiting any symptoms.
?“Since the 1980s, we have seen the cervical cancer death rate in Ontario go down as more women have been getting screened,” says Dr. Rob DiCecco, Cervical Lead for the South West Regional Cancer Program. “Regular cervical screening is so important because it can find early changes that could lead to cervical cancer. Treating these changes can prevent cervical cancer from developing.”
?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; and/or
- Have received the HPV vaccine.
HPV infections are common, and up to 80 percent of sexually active people 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 women at risk for cervical cancer. HPV infections can result in an abnormal Pap test and infections commonly go away without causing any harm, but when an infection persists it can lead to cervical cancer, even among women in their 50s and 60s. Regular screening every three 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 going for cervical screening. For more information, visit www.cancercareontario.ca/ccaw or the Federation of Medical Women of Canada to find a Pap test clinic being offered in your community during Cervical Cancer Awareness Week. To learn more about HPV immunization in Ontario visit: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/ms/hpv/.