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1) What is the Pap test?

A Papanicolau test, known as a Pap test, is a screening test that checks the cells from your cervix for any abnormal changes. Cervical cancer can be prevented by finding these cells and removing them.

Since the introduction of cervical cancer screening with the Pap test in Canada in 1949, the incidence and death rates for cervical cancer have decreased substantially: from 1979 to 2008, rates of cervical cancer incidence declined 50 per cent, and deaths from the disease declined 43 per cent.*

* Canadian Cancer Society/National Cancer Institute of Canada. (2008). Canadian Cancer Statistics, 2008 (ISSN 0835-2976.). 2008. Toronto, Canada.

2) How is a Pap test collected?

A health-care provider (i.e. family physician, nurse practitioner etc) will perform this test in their office or at a clinic.

At first, the health-care provider will talk to you about Pap tests and how it will be done.

They will collect the cells from the cervix using special equipment. It only takes a few minutes to perform a Pap test.

The sample will be sent to the lab to be examined under a microscope for any abnormal changes.

You will be contacted by your healthcare provider with your results.

3) Why should I get a Pap test?

The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to check the cells on your cervix for early abnormal cell changes. A Pap test screens for these unhealthy or abnormal cells. Abnormal Pap tests do not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. It means that there are cells on your cervix that look different from normal cells. It is important for you to follow up with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

4) When should I start having Pap tests?

If you have ever been sexually intimate (i.e. intercourse, oral or touching of the genital area) with a partner of either gender, you can begin having Pap tests at the age of 21.

(Example: First sexual encounter at age 16 = First Pap test at age 21)

If you are not sexually active at 21, you can wait three years after your first sexual encounter before having your first Pap test.

(Example: First sexual encounter at age 25 = First Pap test at age 28)

Speak to your primary health-care provider today about cervical cancer screening for you! 

5) When should I stop having Pap tests?

If you are over the age of 69 and in the past ten years have had regular Pap tests with no abnormal results, you can probably stop having Pap tests.

However, if you are over 69 and have never had a Pap test, do not remember when you had your last Pap test, or having any symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, talk to your primary health-care provider about cervical cancer screening

Speak to your primary health-care provider today if you have questions on whether to stop cervical cancer screening!

6) How often should I have a Pap test?

In general, women aged 21-69 who have ever had sex (such as oral sex, touching of genitals, intercourse, etc) with a partner of either gender should have a Pap test once every three years after three consecutive negative Pap tests.

However, some women with special circumstances should be screened with Pap tests more frequently. These include:

  • Women who have been treated for abnormal Pap tests or an invasive  cervical cancer, and
  • Women who have conditions that lower their immune response (Immunocompromised). For example, transplant recipients, HIV positive persons, those treated with chemotherapy, etc.

Speak to your primary health-care provider about the best screening frequency for you!

7) Where can I have a Pap test?

A primary health-care professional, such as your family physician, can do a Pap test.

If you do not have a family physician, most communities in New Brunswick have clinics where trained health-care professionals do Pap tests.

New Brunswick Pap test clinics.

8) What does a normal Pap result mean?

A normal or negative Pap test means the cells taken from your cervix show no signs of abnormal cell changes. Usually, routine screening according to your screening history will be recommended.

It is important to contact the primary health-care provider who collected your Pap test to discuss your test results and when your next Pap test will be due.

9) What happens if my Pap result is abnormal?

First and foremost, it’s completely natural to be worried and even a little scared about an abnormal result. An abnormal Pap test result means the cells taken from your cervix look different than normal cells when seen under a microscope. What is important to keep in mind is that cell changes found through Pap tests are very rarely cancer. As well, when these changes are caught early, they can be watched closely and treated so that cancer doesn’t develop.

It is important to contact the primary health-care provider who collected your Pap test to discuss your test results and the follow up testing required for abnormal results.

Follow up often requires returning for another Pap test. Sometimes you may be referred to a specialist (gynecologist) who may perform further tests and/or treatment. 

10) I have always had normal Pap tests. Do I still need a Pap test?

Yes. Abnormal cells due to HPV or other causes can develop at any time. It is important that you continue to have regular Pap tests.

11) Do I need to have a Pap test in order to get birth control?

No.

12) I have had my uterus removed (hysterectomy). Do I still need to get a Pap test?

This depends on the reason why you had a hysterectomy (i.e. fibroids, cancer etc) and your risk factors (i.e. new sexual partner). Talk to your primary health-care provider.

13) Do I need a Pap test if I am menopausal?

If you are younger than 69 years of age and have stopped having your periods (menstrual cycles), then you should still have Pap tests.

Statistics show that cervical cancer cases occur more frequently in women over 50 years of age

14) Will I be tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) when I have a Pap tests?

Sometimes. You should ask to be certain.