Community Conversations: New Pap Testing guidelines

New guidelines for Pap Testing allow women a sigh of relief

Stacey Jacobs

Good news for those of you who dread your yearly pap test — the pap test guidelines in Ontario have recently changed. Cervical screening is now recommended every three years (as opposed to every year) beginning at age 21 for anyone with a cervix who is, or has been, sexually active.

Sexual activity includes anal, oral and vaginal intercourse — as well as digital intercourse (fingering) and sharing of sex toys with a partner of any gender. People with a cervix who have not been sexually active by the age of 21 can delay cervical screening.

A pap test checks for changes on the cells of the cervix. A swab is taken from the cervix and the results of this swab will determine if you have healthy cells (normal) or unhealthy cells (abnormal). Getting regular pap tests could save your life, as it can find cervical cancer in its earliest stages and can find abnormal cells that have the potential to turn into cervical cancer. If detected early, most cases of cervical cancer can be treated.

Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. If you do not have HPV you will not have cervical cancer. However, there are many types of HPV. The majority of these types or strains do not cause cancer and usually clear on their own without the person ever knowing they had HPV.

The reason for the change in guidelines is that cervical cancer in people under the age of 21 is extremely rare. It takes many years for HPV to become cervical cancer in young people, making it unnecessary and costly to test young people at an early age and every year. However, if the results of your pap test are not normal it may be recommended that you have your next pap test sooner than three years.

Pap tests have led to a major decline in cervical cancer and they will continue to, as long as people follow the guidelines. It is also important to remember that a pap test is not testing for STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. These are separate tests that you have to ask your health care provider to order. It is often benefi cial to test for these more often than every three years, depending on your sexual behaviour. Even if you are in a monogamous relationship, it cannot hurt to get tested for STIs, but it could hurt you not to. Often STIs show no symptoms, leading us to believe we are healthy. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.

Tips to stay healthy:
1) Get regular pap tests if you have a cervix and are sexually active
2) Get tested for STIs if you are sexually active (even if you are in a monogamous relationship)
3) Use condoms to prevent the spread of STIs