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Cervical Cancer - A Regular PAP Test Could Save Your Life

Like most women you are no doubt willing to do whatever you can stay healthy.  This should include having a regular test to help prevent cancer of the cervix.  This test is called the PAP test.

What is the PAP Test?

Your doctor or health care provider does the PAP test by removing a small sample of cells from the cervix.  These cells are sent to a laboratory to by looked at under a microscope.

Why should I have the PAP test?

Regular PAP tests help prevent cancer of the cervix.  You can have changes in you cervix without experiencing symptoms or pain.  Even small changes in the cells can progress to cancer if not treated.  By having regular PAP tests these changes can be found and treated effectively preventing cancer of the cervix.

Who should have the PAP test?

All women, starting at 21 years of age, who have ever been sexually active need to have regular PAP tests. Women who are not sexually active by age 21 should delay cervical cancer screening. Sexual activity includes intercourse, as well as digital or oral sexual activity involving the genital area with a partner of either gender. Even if you are not sexually active now or no longer have periods, you need regular PAP tests.

How is the PAP test done?

The PAP test is a simple process that a doctor or a nurse can do.  The test takes only a few minutes.  Your doctor or nurse will gently place an instrument called a speculum in your vagina so that they can see your cervix.  The cervix is the lower part of the womb and is found at the top of the vagina.  A small medical spatula and a tiny brush are then used to remove a few cells from the surface of your cervix.  These cells are then sent to a laboratory for examination.

The PAP test is more effective when:

  • you have not douched or used birth control creams or jellies for 48 hours

  • you have not had sex for 24 hours

  • you do not have your period on the day you have the test

It is important that you discuss the PAP with your doctor or nurse to help you relax when the test is being done.  You may also find it helpful to talk with someone you know who has had the PAP test.

How often should I get a PAP test?

You should have a PAP test every three years starting at age 21 if you are, or have been, sexually active. Your pap test should be repeated every three years until you are 70, as long as you have had three or more normal tests in the prior 10 years.

If you have had a total hysterectomy in which both the uterus and the cervix have been removed, talk with a doctor or nurse about whether you need to have PAP tests.

What if my test results are abnormal?

About one in 10 PAP test results shows some kind of abnormality.  Abnormal test results do not mean that you have cancer; they are often cause by an inflammation or an infection your cervix or vagina.  When abnormal results are obtained, further testing will be done.  Ask your doctor or nurse to explain the results to you and what will happen next.

It’s your body.  A PAP test can help you care for it.

Cancer of the cervix is almost completely preventable.  Regular PAP tests are the key.  Make sure they’re part of your "good health" program.

To learn more about PAP tests, contact the HKPR District Health Unit toll-free at 1-866-888-4577.

Additional Resource

Cervical Cancer Screening - Cancer Care Ontario