Caring for your reproductive health: cervical screening

by Kymberly Logan, Public Health Nurse

Cervical screening is more commonly called a “Pap test” or a Papanicolaou test and is a procedure that removes a small sample of cells from the cervix (the passageway between the vagina and uterus). These cells are examined under a microscope to determine whether they appear to be normal.

Abnormal cells will require follow up, which can include a repeat pap test in several months, colposcopy, or treatment. Colposcopy allows for a closer examination of the cervix to determine the best course of action. Treatment can be offered in order to remove the abnormal cells. If left untreated, abnormal cells can lead to pre-cancerous or cancerous conditions.

Cervical screening should be done for all individuals with a cervix starting at age 21 if they have been sexually active. This includes women who have sex with women, transgender men who have retained their cervix, as well as women who have had had a subtotal hysterectomy (if they still have a cervix). It can be completed during pregnancy if it is time for a repeat test.

Those with a history of normal pap tests should have their pap screening repeated every three years, however anyone with abnormal pap results in the past will require more regular screening. Those that are immunocompromised as a result of illness or medication should typically receive screening on an annual basis. If you have had an abnormal pap in the past or think you might be immunocompromised, speak to your health care provider to see when to schedule your next test.  After age 70, screening can be discontinued if there have been at least three negative pap tests completed in the last ten years.

Cancer Care Ontario is an agency of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care that sends letters to eligible individuals to invite them to have pap screening, provide results and information, and provide reminders for repeat testing. Screening is an important way to maintain your health as it can help prevent cancer or detect it while it is easier to treat.

If you are due for a repeat pap test or are over 21 and qualify, schedule your appointment with your health care provider today.

For more information on pap testing and where to access this service please contact the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit at 519.355.1071 extension 5901.

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