More women need to be screened for cervical cancer

October 17, 2018 by Lesley Young, University of Alberta
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Up to 30 per cent of Canadian women are not being regularly screened for cervical cancer, and the lapse is resulting in unnecessary cases of cervical cancer every year, say University of Alberta obstetrics and gynecology residents.

"Every year, 1,500 are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 400 will die," said Lindsay Drummond, a second year OB/GYN resident in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. "The earlier the cancer is screened for and caught—through a Pap test—and treated, the better the prognosis."

"In fact, if more women are screened for cervical cancer, and gender-neutral HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccination rates increase, there's a very good possibility Canada could be the first country in the world to eradicate cervical cancer by the next generation of women," added Kristen Black, a third-year OB/GYN resident.

Currently, only 67 per cent of women are screened for cervical cancer. Alberta Health Services (AHS) has said it would like to see the rate go up to 80 per cent.

According to the Pan-Canadian Cervical Cancer Screening Network (PCCSN), well over a third of women diagnosed with had not had a Pap test in the previous five years or ever. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that 15 per cent of women have never had a Pap test.

"Unfortunately, a number of obstacles prevent women from being screened that include a lack of awareness of the risk, due in part to lower incidences because of increased screening, women not having a family physician or not having a family physician who offers Pap tests, or women choosing not to have a Pap test because it is uncomfortable," said Drummond.

A Pap test is a safe procedure that removes a small sample of cells from the cervix, said Black. Cells are looked at under a microscope to see whether they are normal or abnormal, and if they are abnormal, they can be removed before they become cancerous, she added.

Health Canada advises women to start Pap tests when they're 25, or three years after becoming sexually active, and make them part of their regular health routine every three years.

Preventing cervical cancer

Risk factors for cervical cancer include infection with HPV, sexual activity, smoking and a history of sexually transmitted infections, said Drummond.

"Your number one preventive step is to get a Pap every three years. In developing countries with screening programs, cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women and the most common killer cancer," she noted.

"Quitting smoking is also important, as is protecting yourself against HPV, and the best way to do that is to get an HPV vaccination," added Black.

Two strains of HPV cause more than 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases, she said, adding there are many different types of HPV.

"Most women who develop cervical cancer have had an HPV infection at some point in time. In fact, over 75 per cent of people will have had an HPV infection in their lifetime that may have been symptomless and cleared up on its own," said Black.

"Of course, having an HPV infection doesn't mean you'll develop cervical cancer, but getting a vaccine to reduce your exposure is a critical prevention measure," said Drummond. "And the vaccine can also reduce your risk of other cancers caused by HPV including oropharyngeal, anal, vulvar and vaginal ."

Health Canada approved the HPV vaccinations in females aged nine to 45 and males aged nine to 26.

"Even though the vaccine is most effective before one is sexually active, there are still benefits to getting one after," noted Black. "It helps the body's immune system fight HPV and it provides lifelong immunity."

For more information about getting screened for and the HPV connection, check out AHS's Cervical Cancer Screening at a Glance.

Explore further: Q&A: Women 65 and older may not need Pap tests

Related Stories

Q&A: Women 65 and older may not need Pap tests

September 21, 2018
Dear Mayo Clinic: I am way past my childbearing years and do not have any health problems. Do I need to continue getting Pap smears? At what age is this test no longer necessary?

Facts women and men should know about cervical cancer

January 22, 2018
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month and the message from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention is that "no woman should die from cervical cancer."

Screening, HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer: FDA

February 8, 2017
(HealthDay)—Women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer through vaccination and screening, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

5 things you should know about cervical cancer

December 1, 2017
(HealthDay)—A little knowledge can go a long way in the fight against cervical cancer.

Previous screening results important for decision about smear tests after age 60

October 25, 2017
Being screened again after the age of 60 reduces the risk of cervical cancer in women who have previously had abnormal smear tests and in women who did not have smear tests in their 50s, researchers at Karolinska Institutet ...

More than two-thirds of cervical cancer deaths prevented by screening

September 19, 2016
Cervical screening prevents 70 per cent of cervical cancer deaths and if all eligible women regularly attended screening this would rise to 83 per cent, according to research led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Recommended for you

From the ashes of a failed pain drug, a new therapeutic path emerges

November 16, 2018
In 2013, renowned Boston Children's Hospital pain researcher Clifford Woolf, MB, BCh, Ph.D., and chemist Kai Johnsson, Ph.D., his fellow co-founder at Quartet Medicine, believed they held the key to non-narcotic pain relief. ...

Repurposing FDA-approved drugs can help fight back breast cancer

November 16, 2018
Screening Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved compounds for their ability to stop cancer growth in the lab led to the finding that the drug flunarizine can slow down the growth of triple-negative breast cancer in ...

Traditional chemotherapy superior to new alternative for oropharyngeal cancers

November 16, 2018
A drug increasingly used in combination with radiotherapy to treat a type of cancer that forms in the tonsils or the base of the tongue is inferior to a previously favored option, according to a large, clinical trial led ...

New 'SLICE' tool can massively expand immune system's cancer-fighting repertoire

November 15, 2018
Immunotherapy can cure some cancers that until fairly recently were considered fatal. In addition to developing drugs that boost the immune system's cancer-fighting abilities, scientists are becoming expert at manipulating ...

Standard chemotherapy treatment for HPV-positive throat cancer remains the most effective, study finds

November 15, 2018
A new study funded by Cancer Research UK and led by the University of Birmingham has found that the standard chemotherapy used to treat a specific type of throat cancer remains the most effective.

Anti-malaria drugs have shown promise in treating cancer, and now researchers know why

November 15, 2018
Anti-malaria drugs known as chloroquines have been repurposed to treat cancer for decades, but until now no one knew exactly what the chloroquines were targeting when they attack a tumor. Now, researchers from the Abramson ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.