Celebrating and Empowering the Women in our Lives
Each year in May, we take extra time to celebrate the women who make a significant impact on our lives. We pamper them, recognize and celebrate their strengths, and shower them with love and appreciation in the form of gifts and cards. Have you ever considered the gift of a reminder? While it may not rival a day at the spa, a thoughtful prompt to stay up-to-date on cervical cancer screening could be the best gift you can give.
“Cervical cancer screening certainly isn’t glamorous,” acknowledges Dr. Robert Di Cecco, Regional Cervical Lead for the South West Regional Cancer Program, “but it only takes a few minutes, and it can be lifesaving.”
Cervical cancer may take a long time to develop, and there are usually no early warning signs or symptoms. Fortunately, regular Pap testing can find most abnormal cells in the cervix before they turn into cancer. The Ontario Cervical Screening Program recommends that women who are or have been sexually active have a Pap test every three years starting at age 21 and that regular screening should continue until at least age 70 or when advised by a doctor or nurse practitioner to stop.
There are several misconceptions about screening, explains Dr. Di Cecco. Women ages 21 to 69 need to get cervical screening even if they:
- feel healthy and have no symptoms
- are no longer sexually active
- have only had one sexual partner
- are in a same-sex/transgender relationship
- have been through menopause
- have no family history of cervical cancer
- have received the HPV vaccine
A Pap test looks for abnormal cells in the cervix. Sometimes cervical cells become abnormal over time as they die and then renew, or when they have become infected by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Abnormal cells can often return to normal without any intervention. But if not, they need to be found and, if necessary, treated. Otherwise, they may slowly progress to cervical cancer over a number of years.
But is the Pap test always accurate, and what if you do have symptoms? The Pap test isn’t perfect, and there is still a possibility that abnormal cells are missed. But according to Dr. Di Cecco, regular screening significantly decreases the risk of missing those important changes. “Screening is a really important part of the picture,” says Dr. Di Cecco, “but it’s equally important that women pay attention to their bodies and notice when they are experiencing unusual symptoms.” Dr. Di Cecco recommends women who are experiencing unusual pain, abnormal bleeding, or discharge see a doctor – even if their last Pap test was normal.
Exposure to HPV is very common, and certain strains of HPV are directly linked to the development of cervical cancer, as well as several other types of cancers in both women and men. What can you do to be proactive in preventing or decreasing your risk? Vaccination against HPV (coupled with routine screening) is one of the most effective ways of protecting yourself from developing cervical cancer. Women aged 9-45 and males aged 9-26 are eligible to be vaccinated and should talk to their doctor for more information.
What’s Dr. Di Cecco’s best advice for women? “Be your own advocate– you know your body better than anyone.”
For more information about Cervical Cancer Screening visit: https://www.cancercareontario.ca/en/types-of-cancer/cervical/screening
If you do not have a doctor or nurse practitioner, you can register for Health Care Connect at 1-800-445-1822 or visit the Health Care Connect website. https://www.ontario.ca/page/find-family-doctor-or-nurse-practitioner