||Cancer Prevention and Screening
What is the cervix?
- The cervix is part of a woman's reproductive organs. The cervix is at the top of the vagina and is the opening to the uterus (womb)
What is HPV (Human Papillomavirus)?
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection in both men and women. There are over 100 different types of HPV
- HPV is passed between two people, mostly through sexual activity, but also by skin-to-skin contact
- Low risk types of HPV can cause warts on the skin and genital areas
- High risk types of HPV can cause cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix)
What puts a woman at risk for HPV infection?
- Sexual activity now or in the past - even a woman who has been sexually active once is at risk
- Sexual activity before age 18
- Having many sexual partners (you or your partner)
What we know about HPV and cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix)
- Being infected with a high risk type of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a cause of cervical cancer; but other factors also need to be present that increase the chance that the virus will persist
- Most women with HPV infection will not develop cervical cancer. Most people with a healthy immune system will clear the HPV infection on their own
- Factors that increase the chance that the HPV infection will persist include:
- Having a weakened immune system
- Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke
- Having other sexually transmitted infections
- Using the birth control pill for more than five years
- Having more than five full-term pregnancies
- If the HPV infection persists, some high risk types of HPV may cause changes in the cells of the cervix
- Early changes in the cervix can happen without pain or other symptoms
- If not found and treated, abnormal cells in the cervix can develop into cancer
- It can take many years for cervical cancer to develop
- Regular Pap tests can find changes early and prevent cancer of the cervix
What is a Pap test?
- The Pap test is a simple test used to look at the cells of the cervix (opening to the uterus)
- A Pap test can be done by a doctor or nurse
- By having a Pap test, changes in the cervix can be found early and treated before cancer ever develops
- In most cases, abnormal Pap test results do not mean cancer
- If there are changes, it is important to follow up. Your doctor may do the Pap test again or send you to a specialist for treatment
- A Pap test does not check you for other sexually transmitted infections. Talk to your doctor or nurse about other tests you may need
What are the Ontario Cervical Screening (Pap test) Guidelines?
- Women who are or have ever been sexually active are recommended to start having Pap tests at age 21
- Sexual activity includes sexual intercourse and digital or oral sexual activity involving the genital area with a male or female partner
- Women who are not sexually active by age 21 should delay Pap testing until they are sexually active
- If test results are normal, Pap tests should be repeated every three years
- If test results find abnormal cells, Pap tests will likely be done more often (e.g. every year)
- Women with a weakened immune system and those who have had a hysterectomy should speak with their doctor to determine their cervical screening needs
- Continue having regular Pap tests until at least age 70
When is the best time to have a Pap test?
- Have a Pap test when you do not have your period
- Do not have sex for 24 hours before the test
- Do not use vaginal medications or douches for 48 hours before the test
How to protect yourself against cervical cancer
- If you have ever been sexually active, have regular Pap tests
- Delay first sexual intercourse until after age 18
- Limit your number of sexual partners
- Use condoms to lower your risk
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Take care of yourself - eat well, be active every day and get enough sleep
- Talk to your doctor or nurse about the HPV vaccine
Get healthier... One step at a time.
Get screened for cervical cancer.
For more information call
Toronto Health Connection at 416-338-7600.
Last updated July 2012