Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical cancer is preventable with routine cervical cancer screening. Approximately 550 women in Ontario are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and about 160 of those women will die.

Cervical cancer is most commonly caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Prolonged or recurring infections can result in changes to the cells of your cervix that could eventually become cancerous. That is why it is important for women ages 21 and older, who have ever been sexually active, to go for regular Pap tests.

A Pap test is used for cervical cancer screening. It looks for abnormal cell changes on the cervix. A Pap test does not test for other cancers of the reproductive organs (like the ovaries) or for sexually transmitted infections (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV).

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Who can participate on the Screen for Life Coach?

Women who are 21 years or older, who have not been screened in the last 3 years, are eligible to have a Pap test for cervical cancer screening on the Screen for Life Coach. If you have had a hysterectomy, you should talk to your Primary Care Provider about whether or not cervical screening is right for you.

Ontario Cervical Screening Guidelines recommend that women ages 70 years and older do not need to have Pap tests when have had 3 or more normal tests in the past 10 years.

How do I book an appointment?

Book your own appointment

Eligible women can call the Screen for Life Office to book their appointment. Our services are free and do not require a doctor’s referral.

Call the Screen for Life Office at: (807) 684-7777 or toll free 1-800-461-7031.

Once you have booked your appointment, you will receive a letter with the date, time, and location of your appointment. Before your appointment, you will also receive a phone call reminder.

What can I expect?

Screen for Life Coach

When you arrive you can enter through the side door at the front of the coach. Relax in the waiting area at the top of the stairs. You will be greeted by the Screening team, a female Registered Nurse and female Medical Radiation Technologist.

There are private change rooms on the coach, but no washroom. Please remember to use the washroom before you come for your appointment.

The Screen for Life coach is wheelchair accessible. Please let us know at the time of booking if you will require the use of our wheelchair lift.

Your Pap test appointment

When you meet the Registered Nurse on the coach, she will review your cervical cancer screening history to determine if you are eligible to be screened. If you are eligible, your Pap test will be performed in our private exam room on the coach. The nurse will explain the procedure to you.

Remember use the washroom before your appointment.

For your Pap test you will be asked to lie on your back in an examination chair. An instrument, called a speculum, is gently inserted into the vagina so your cervix can be seen clearly. Cells are taken from the cervix with a swab and sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope. The procedure is short and only takes a couple of minutes. The nurse is there to answer your questions and discuss any concerns that you may have about the Pap test.

Test results

The Screen for Life Office will mail your cervical screening results 6 to 8 weeks after your Pap test. The letter will explain your next steps and indicate when you should have your next Pap test.

If your results indicate that more tests are required, our Nurse Navigator will contact you and explain what your result means and what the next steps are.

If you have any questions or concerns, call our Nurse Navigator at: (807) 684-6921.

What happens if I have an abnormal test result?

If you don’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner, the Screen for Life Coach is an excellent option for you to access screening tests. We ensure that abnormal test follow-up is coordinated for our clients. If you have an abnormal test the Diagnostic Assessment Program (DAP) with Prevention & Screening Services at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) will help to coordinate your care.

Our Nurse Navigator works closely with our medical lead physician to ensure that women who have an abnormal Pap test have follow-up within a timely and appropriate manner.

What is an unsatisfactory Pap test result?

An unsatisfactory Pap result usually means that the sample collected from your cervix didn’t have enough cells or the cells could not be seen well enough under the microscope. In these instances, you will need to repeat your Pap test to get a better a sample. Our Screen for Life Office will contact you to discuss next steps.

Thirty percent of women will have an abnormal Pap test result in their lifetime. Cell changes found through Pap tests are very rarely cancer, but they do require follow-up.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is cervical cancer screening?

    Screening for cervical cancer is done through a Pap test – a cervical swab that collects cells from the cervix to look for abnormal cell changes. It does not test for other cancers in the reproductive organs or for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV. The procedure is short and only takes a few minutes.

  2. Why is cervical cancer screening (Pap testing) needed?

    Cervical cancer is preventable. Yet, year after year, about 550 women are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix, and about 160 women die from this disease in Ontario. Pap testing is an essential defense against cervical cancer. Cervical cancer screening can detect early cell changes on the cervix caused by persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. These changes seldom cause any symptoms, but can progress to cancer if not found, and, if necessary, treated.

  3. How do I know if I need a Pap test?

    Cervical cancer screening is recommended every three years for all women starting at age 21 who are or ever have been sexually active.
    Ontario cervical screening guidelines
    recommend that women age 70 and over can stop having Pap tests when they have had three or more normal tests in the prior 10 years.

    You should get a regular Pap test even if:

    • You’ve had the HPV vaccine
    • You’ve had only 1 sexual partner
    • You’ve been with your partner for a while
    • You’ve been through menopause
    • You’re no longer having sex
    • You’re in a same-sex relationship
  4. Is it true that older women don’t need Pap tests?

    Screening may be stopped after age 70 if you have had three normal Pap test results in the past 10 years and have no history of biopsy that confirmed significant abnormalities. If you are unsure of when you should stop getting regular Pap tests, talk to your primary care provider.

  5. Do Pap tests screen for all gynecologic cancers?

    The only cancer Pap tests screen for is cervical cancer. The Pap test does not screen for other gynecologic cancers such as ovarian cancer and fallopian cancer. Contact your primary care provider if you have questions about gynecologic cancers not screened by the Pap test.

  6. Do Pap tests screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

    The Pap test that is performed on the Screen for Life Coach does not test for any STIs. If you would like to have STI testing done you should contact your primary care provider or the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.

  7. Can cervical cancer be prevented?

    A Pap test can find abnormal cells on your cervix before they become cancer. If these changes are found and treated early, cervical cancer can be prevented. Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There is a vaccine that protects against 2 types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Click here for more information about the HPV vaccine.

  8. Do we know what causes cervical cancer?

    Most cervical cancers are caused by a common virus called HPV (human papillomavirus) which is easily spread through sexual contact, including intimate touching, oral, vaginal and anal sex. Three out of four sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives – often without knowing it.

  9. If you have HPV, will you develop cervical cancer?

    There are more than 100 types of HPV – some types are high risk for cervical cancer, while others are high risk for genital warts. HPV types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cancers of the cervix. Usually, the body’s immune system clears the virus by itself within 2 years. But for some women HPV does not clear from the body and over time, it can cause abnormal cell changes in the cervix that you cannot see or feel. These abnormal cells can develop into cervical cancer if they are not found and treated early enough.

  10. Are women with more than one sex partner at higher risk of getting cervical cancer?

    Women who have had only one partner can develop cervical cancer. No one can pinpoint exactly why one woman may develop cervical cancer and another may not.

  11. Is it true that women who have received the HPV vaccine don’t need Pap tests?

    Regular Pap tests are still necessary for women who have had the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is intended to protect against certain HPV strains. The vaccine protects against 2 high risk HPV strains known to cause cervical cancer in women, but there are other strains associated with cervical cancer and the vaccine will not protect you against these strains.

  12. What about screening for women with special circumstances?

    • These guidelines do not apply to women who have been previously treated for dysplasia. Screening intervals should be individualized and should likely be annual.
    • Immunocompromised women should receive annual screening.
    • Women who have undergone subtotal hysterectomy and retained their cervix should continue screening according to the guidelines.
    • Pregnant women should be screened according to the guidelines; however, care should be taken not to over-screen. Only conduct Pap tests during pre-natal and post-natal visits if the woman is otherwise due for screening.
    • Women who have sex with women should follow the same cervical screening regimen as women who have sex with men.
    • Women who have received the HPV vaccine should continue with screening. The vaccine may be considered by unimmunized women according to NACI guidelines: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/naci-ccni/recs-eng.php