“Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable…” Dr. Heather McLean

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Cancer Care at TBRHSCTHUNDER BAY – For the first time, Regional Cancer Care Northwest is hosting a Cervical Screening Blitz. The blitz is part of the national Pap Test Campaign organized by the Federation of Medical Women of Canada and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. The campaign aims to increase cervical cancer screening rates in women who face barriers in accessing Pap testing.

During National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, Pap test clinics are being made available for all women, particularly those who have difficulty accessing cervical screening sites. Nineteen clinics are participating across the Northwest. All women in the Northwest are encouraged to call their health care provider and book a Pap test. Those without access to a health care provider are encouraged to call the confidential cervical hotline 807-684-7787 to learn about participating drop in clinics being offered.

Regional Cancer Care Northwest reminds women that cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable with regular screening, appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal results and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. In 2011, about 500 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in Ontario and about 140 women will die from the disease.

“Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable, yet women continue to die from the disease,” said Dr. Heather McLean, family physician and Primary Care Lead for Regional Cancer Care Northwest. “Regular screening is an essential defense against cervical cancer and the best way to detect early cell changes on the cervix that might lead to cancer.”

All women who have ever been sexually active need a regular Pap test once every one to three years. A Pap test looks for abnormal cell changes on the cervix which can be treated so that cancer does not develop. It does not screen for ovarian cancer, uterine cancers or gynecological infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or HIV.

Cervical screening should begin in early adulthood within three years of being sexually active. Ontario guidelines recommend that cervical cancer screening should be done every year until the Pap test is normal for three years in a row. After this, most women can have a Pap test every two to three years.

“In the past 30 years, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates have declined by more than 60 per cent in all age groups due to widespread cervical screening with Pap tests,” said Dr. McLean.

“Despite this progress, many women are still not being screened for cervical cancer regularly, or are not undergoing follow-up testing after an abnormal Pap test.”

Between 2007 and 2009, 28 per cent of women aged 20-69 years did not have a Pap test in the past three years. Each year, up to 90,000 Ontario women learn they have abnormal Pap tests that require follow-up testing.

Persistent infection with some types of HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Although most women with HPV infection do not develop cervical cancer, sometimes an HPV infection stays in the body for a long time and can cause cell changes in the cervix. Over a number of years, these cell changes may slowly lead to cancer if they are not followed closely and if necessary treated.

Women are encouraged to ask their health care providers about how often they should have a Pap test, and to visit ontario.ca/screenforlife and complete the “Time to Screen” tool to find out when it’s the right time for them to get screened.

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