Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is at the opening of the uterus. The cells of the cervix are constantly being renewed. Sometimes, these cells change and become abnormal. Often, abnormal cells naturally return to normal. But if they don’t they may, slowly over a number of years, become cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, but every year about 500 women are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and about 140 women die of this disease in Ontario.
What causes cervical cancer?
Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause cervical cancer. HPV is a family of viruses commonly found in both men and women. HPV is passed from one person to another through intimate sexual contact.
Most people come into contact with HPV at some time in their life. Usually there are no symptoms and often people don’t even know that they have an HPV infection. The infection usually goes away naturally within two years.
An HPV infection causes cell changes in the cervix. For most women, the cells change back to normal when the infection goes away. Sometimes, for reasons that are not well understood, an HPV infection stays in the body for a long time. Over a number of years, the abnormal cells can slowly lead to cancer they are not followed appropriately and, if necessary, treated.
Most women with HPV infection do not develop cervical cancer.
What is cervical cancer screening?
A Pap test is the test used to screen for cervical cancer in Ontario.
What is a Pap test?
A Pap test is a simple screening test that can help prevent cervical cancer. A Pap test looks for abnormal cell changes of the cervix. The test will not detect other cancers in the reproductive organs or look for other diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV.
A Pap test is done in a doctor or nurse practitioner’s office.
An instrument, called a speculum, is gently inserted in your vagina so your cervix can be seen. Cells are taken from the cervix and are sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope. Some women may find the Pap test uncomfortable or embarrassing but it only takes a few minutes and could save your life.
Are Pap tests effective?
Yes, incidence and deaths for cervical cancer have declined more than 60 per cent in Ontario over the past 30 years due to widespread screening with the Pap test. But, they aren’t perfect. Sometimes they can miss abnormal cells. Be sure to go for regular Pap test screening. This decreases the chance of missing important changes.. If you have unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, see your doctor or nurse practitioner, even if your last Pap test was normal.
Where do I go for a Pap test?
- Make an appointment with your health care provider, like your doctor or nurse practitioner.
- If you do not have a health care provider, you can register for Health Care Connect at 1-800-445-1822 or Health Care Connect.
- Some Public Health Units and Community Health Centres also provide Pap tests.
- For information on health care services in your community, visit Health Care Options.
How do I get ready for a Pap test?
- Try to make the appointment for a day when you do not have your period.
- Don’t have sex or use tampons, foams or medicines in your vagina for 48 hours before the test.
- If these can’t be avoided, still go for your test.
What happens after the Pap test?
Most often, your Pap test result will be normal. If your result is abnormal, it does not mean you have cervical cancer.
Your health care provider will contact you if you have an abnormal test result. If your result is abnormal, it doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. But you will need to talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about next steps – like following up with another Pap test in a few months. You may also need to see a specialist for more tests.
Regardless of the results, you will receive a letter from the Ontario Cervical Screening Program (OCSP) telling you if your test result is normal or abnormal. If you do not want to OCSP to contact you, please visit cancercareontario.ca/cervicalcancer to opt out of the program.
Why do women need Pap tests?
Cervical cancer is a cancer that can often be prevented so Pap tests are important. The cells on the cervix are constantly changing and growing. Sometimes, these cells become abnormal. A Pap test looks for these abnormal cells. Often, abnormal cells naturally return to normal. But if they don’t, they need to be found and, if necessary, treated. Otherwise, slowly over a number of years, they may become cervical cancer.
About the Ontario Cervical Screening Program
The Ontario Cervical Screening Program is a program of Cancer Care Ontario and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The goal of the program is to help prevent and reduce deaths from cervical cancer.Call ServiceOntario: Infoline at 1-866-532-3161 In Toronto, 416-314-5518 TTY 1-800-387-5559 In Toronto, TTY 416-327-4282 Hours of operation : 8:30am – 5:00pm