Cervical Screening (PAP Test)
What is the PAP test?
Cervical screening is a test performed by a nurse practitioner or doctor that will show that the cells on her cervix are normal and healthy. If the cells on her cervix are abnormal, follow up and treatment can be done to prevent those cells from becoming cancerous. The decrease in the incidence of cervical cancer since the 1950’s has been largely attributed to cervical screening and the early detection of abnormal cells. Sometimes during the procedure another swab is taken to determine if the woman has either Chlamydia or Gonorrhea. These are two common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Women can have one or both of these STIs and can feel normal and healthy – that’s why testing is so important! It is wise to ask your health care provider to test for STIs as this is not always done at the same time as the PAP test.
What causes cervical cancer?
A virus called, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), causes cervical cancer. There are over 100 different types of HPV and they are passed through sexual activity. Some types of HPV cause genital warts and others types if left untreated cause cervical cancer. Since HPV is sexually transmitted, it is necessary to have a PAP test after you begin sexual activity. Sexual activity includes intercourse as well as digital or oral sexual activity involving the genital area with a partner of either gender. This new information has led to changes in the Cervical Screening and Follow up Guidelines. Visit the website www.cancercare.on.ca to view the guidelines.
Who should have a PAP test done?
PAP Tests should begin at age 21 for women who are or have ever been sexually active. Women who are not sexually active by age 21 should delay the PAP test until they are sexually active. If your test result is normal, PAP tests should occur every 3 years. Screening every 3 years is safe and effective. PAP tests may be discontinued at age 70 if there have been 3 or more normal PAP test results in the previous 10 years.
Where can I get a PAP test?
You can see your nurse practitioner or family doctor for this testing.