Ontario’s cervical cancer screening rules change
Guidelines for cervical cancer screenings in Canada have undergone a change recently, and now state that women age 21 and over should be screened for the disease every three years.
The new guidelines come from Cancer Care Ontario, an organization that helps provide cancer services for the province of Ontario.
After consideration of the fact that the disease rarely strikes women before the age of 21 the rules were changed. Now women who are not sexually active under the age of 21 may choose not to get screening until they become active.
“Regular screening every three years starting at age 21 can detect changes that might lead to cancer. New research shows that screening women under age 21, regardless of the age they first became sexually active, doesn’t actually reduce their risk for cervical cancer,” says Dr. Linda Rabeneck, Vice President, Prevention and Cancer Control, Cancer Care Ontario.
Doctors with Cancer Care Ontario say there is no real benefit to being screened prior to the age of 21, just as there is no reason to have annual pap smears. In fact, studies have shown that follow-up exams and treatments after pap smears may do more harm than good to women under the age of 21.
Under guidelines put into place in 2005, doctors recommended that women get screened within the first three years after their first sexual act and continue each year until three normal test results were achieved. After three normal tests, it was recommended that women get screened only every two or three years. Also, women age 70 and older are no longer required to be screened following three normal tests over a 10 year period.
Shannon Pethick, 34, from Burlington, Ontario, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010. As a result of her intensive cancer treatment, Shannon went into menopause and lost her ability to have children at the age of 32. Now cancer-free, Shannon is a vocal cervical cancer screening advocate for the Canadian Cancer Society.
“When I think back, having a Pap test could have prevented my cancer and I’d be able to have kids,” says Shannon.
“Women need to talk about this. I know Pap tests are not the most pleasant thing to experience but going through radiation and chemotherapy is far worse. I want to shout it from the rooftops that women need to schedule regular Pap tests with their doctor.”
The Canadian Cancer Society strongly supports the new provincial screening guidelines. “In 2012, it is projected that about 550 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in Ontario and about 160 women will die from this disease,” says Rowena Pinto, Vice President, Public Affairs & Strategic Initiatives, Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. “Most cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have not been screened at all or have not been screened regularly.”
“Keeping Ontarians healthy is a key pillar of our Action Plan for Health Care,” says Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. “We know that screening saves lives so it’s critical for Ontario women to get screened every three years for cervical cancer.”
It is important to screen up to the age of 70 years as the risk of cervical cancer does not decrease with age however, at the age of 70, women who have had three or more normal test results in the previous 10 years can stop cervical cancer screening.
Women who wish to learn more about cervical cancer screening are encouraged to speak with their doctor or nurse and visit www.ontario.ca/screenforlife.