cancer is one of the most preventable cancers due to its pre-cancerous phase. The transition from the early abnormal changes in cells to becoming cancer can take many years. By screening every three years, women will continue to benefit from early detection while avoiding unnecessary tests and follow-up treatment. The BC Cancer Agency recently issued the new evidenced-based recommendation based on two BC-based expert reviews.
“BC is now coming in line with what the emerging evidence is around the frequency of screening,”
says Dr. Gina Ogilvie, Senior Advisor, Research at BC Women's Hospital + Health Care Centre and Assistant Director of the Women's Health Research Institute.
“Cervical cancer is caused almost exclusively by certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV),” says Dr. Dirk Van Niekerk, Medical Director, Cervical Screening Program, BC Cancer Agency. “HPV can take more than a decade to progress to pre-cancerous cells or cervical cancer. Screening every three years provides sufficient time to identify and treat any pre-cancerous conditions long before they ever turn into cervical cancer.”
In its early stages, cervical cancer often has no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, abnormal or persistent vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain. Cervical cancer screening is a test that can ﬁnd abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancer. When abnormal cells are found and treated early, cervical cancer can be prevented. With early detection, the chance of survival is more than 85 per cent.
Anyone with a cervix (including transgender individuals) can take two steps to prevent cervical cancer:
Get screened every three years if they are between the ages of 25 and 69
Get the HPV vaccine if they are between the ages of 9 to 45
Screening is not recommended for women under age 25, as it is common to find abnormalities which are transient and will most likely resolve on their own. Treatment of these transient lesions can have long term consequences for subsequent pregnancies and cause unnecessary anxiety and stress. HPV causes cervical cancer and can take more than a decade for precancerous cells to develop on the cervix after an HPV infection.
Evidence shows that screening every three years can reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer by 70 per cent, and is just as effective and safe as screening every two years. Individuals who have received the HPV vaccine still require cervical cancer screening. The vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer.
British Columbia developed its first cervical cancer screening policy in the early 1960s when the province launched the Cervical Cancer Screening Program, the first organized cervical cancer screening program in the world. Since the program’s inception, cervical cancer rates in BC have been reduced by 70 per cent.