About 75% of sexually active Albertans will get HPV in their lifetime.

Cervical cancer screening.
A few minutes that can save your life.

You may have heard of cervical cancer but may not know exactly what it is or how it develops. Especially if no one you know has ever had the disease.

What’s important to know is that this type of cancer can almost always be avoided with screening and vaccination. In fact, 90% of cervical cancer can be prevented with regular Pap tests (the main screening test for cervical cancer) and following up on any abnormal results.

Why get a Pap test?

A Pap test (or what some used to call a Pap smear) is part of cervical cancer screening and checks for changes in the cells of your cervix. It’s a very quick test done right in your healthcare provider’s office or at a clinic. A sample of cells is taken from your cervix and sent to the lab. The lab then checks for any abnormal cells that may lead to cancer.

The single most important reason to have regular Pap tests is that they can save your life. By getting checked regularly, any abnormal cells that are found can be monitored and, if needed, treated before they can develop into cancer.

Find out more about cervical cancer screening and Pap tests

Click on the button below to learn about the kinds of things that affect your risk

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When do you need a Pap test?

Starting at age 25, or 3 years after becoming sexually active (whichever is later), it’s important to start making Pap tests part of your regular health routine.

Remember that being sexually active doesn’t refer only to intercourse. It’s defined as having any skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, which includes touching, oral sex or intercourse with a partner of either sex. So for example:

  • If you’re 17 and are already sexually active, you don’t need to start having Pap tests until you’re 25.
  • If you’re not sexually active until 25, you don’t need to start having Pap tests until you’re 28.

Once you’ve started having Pap tests, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • You should continue being screened even after you’ve been through menopause and until you’re at least 69 years old.
  • If you’ve had a hysterectomy, speak to your healthcare provider about whether you still need to be screened.

Find out more about who should be screened for cervical cancer.

Not sure if you need to be screened? Click on the button below to learn about the kinds of things that affect your risk

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Where can you get a Pap test?

To have a Pap test, all you have to do is make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Pap tests are done right in a healthcare provider’s office or clinic and are very quick.

If you don’t have a healthcare provider or you would prefer to go to a women’s health clinic, use the locator to find the most convenient place for you to have a Pap test.

You can also:

What are the risks of getting a Pap test?

Pap tests are generally very safe. However, as with any procedure, there are some risks involved. Some things to consider:

  • A Pap test can miss abnormal cell changes – which is why it’s so important to have Pap tests regularly. That’s also why it’s important to tell your healthcare provider right away if you have abnormal bleeding. This would include bleeding between periods, after sexual intercourse, or after menopause.
  • There can be a certain amount of stress if you get an abnormal result. Following-up on an abnormal result may mean extra tests even though many cell changes go away on their own.

It’s always best to speak to your healthcare provider about these risks and any other concerns you may have.

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What is HPV?

HPV is short for human papillomavirus. It is the main cause of cervical cancer.

  • There are many types of HPV and most are harmless.
  • Some types of HPV can be spread by touching in the genital area, oral sex, or intercourse with a partner of either sex. These types are so common that most people get it soon after they become sexually active.
  • HPV is spread so easily that at least 7 out of 10 people will get it at some point in their lives.
  • Some of the types of HPV that are spread by sexual contact can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that can develop into cervical cancer.
  • Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.

What you may not know is that the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer usually don’t cause symptoms, so most people don’t even know they have it. Most often the body fights the infection and the virus clears up on its own within two years and without any serious effects.

But in some women, the HPV infection doesn’t clear up and causes abnormal cells to grow in the cervix. If left untreated, over time these cells may become cancerous. A Pap test can find these abnormal cells early when they can be treated, if needed, before they become cancer. This is why going for one on a regular basis is so important.

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