Helpful information, and answers to common questions.
Pap Tests: General Questions
A Pap Test is an important screening test for cervical cancer. When a Pap test is done, some cells from the cervix (the opening to the uterus) are taken for examination. The cells are looked at for any changes that could lead to cancer.
If you are 21 years or older, have been sexually active and have a cervix, you need to have regular pap tests. Pregnant women and women who have sex with women also need regular Pap tests. You may not need to have regular Pap tests if:
- you have had a total hysterectomy and have never been treated for cervical dysplasia or diagnosed with cervical cancer.
- you are at least 70 years of age and have a history of normal Pap test results. Your doctor or health care provider can tell you more.
You should have your first Pap test:
- within 3 years of becoming sexually active or at the age of 21 – whichever happens later.
- If you have never been sexually active you do not need to have Pap tests.
- In general, you should have a Pap test every three years.
- If you have ever been treated for abnormal cells (cervical dysplasia) or cancer of the cervix, you need yearly Pap tests for life.
- If you are experiencing irregular or unusually heavy periods, spotting or bleeding between periods, after sexual activity, after douching, or after menopause, talk to your family doctor or health care provider.
If you are under 70 you still need a Pap test even though you have stopped having periods.
- If you have had a subtotal hysterectomy (cervix still present), you should be screened every three years;
- If you have had a total hysterectomy (cervix removed) and have had treatment for cervical dysplasia or a history of cancer of the cervix, you should be screened annual (yearly) for life;
- If you have had a total hysterectomy and have not been treated for cervical dysplasia or a history of cancer of the cervix you do not require pap tests.
Pap Tests and Sexual Activity
Having a new sexual partner is not a reason to have a Pap test.
Sometimes, but you need to ask to be certain.
Sexual activity means vaginal intercourse, vaginal‐oral sex, vaginal‐digital sex (digital = fingers) or sharing of sex toys or devices.
A Pap test is done to see if there are abnormal or, more rarely, cancerous cells on a person’s cervix. Cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is usually spread by sexual contact and cleared from the body naturally without causing any problems. The virus can remain present but dormant in the body, and only cause problems years later. This is why Pap test should be done on all women who are, or have ever been, sexually active. However, because invasive cervical cancer takes a long time to develop after exposure to HPV, experts agree that the Pap test can safely be delayed until three years after becoming sexually active.
HPV is a common, sexually transmitted virus. There are over 100 types of HPV, and about 40 types of HPV may live in the genital area. Most often HPV does not cause any symptoms or harm and goes away on its own, but some types may cause genital and anal warts, and cancer over time. For more information about HPV and/or the HPV vaccination, contact your local Public Health office, family doctor, a nurse practitioner, a sexual health centre, a well woman clinic or a walk‐in clinic or visit THIS LINK.
Not necessarily. An abnormal Pap means that there are some abnormal cervical cells that need to be looked at more closely. There are many possible reasons for abnormal cells, including an infection, hormonal changes or an abnormal growth of cells. A doctor may discuss further monitoring or treatment.
- Have regular Pap tests
- Delay age of first sexual activity
- Limit number of sexual partners
- Choose not to smoke
- Practice safe sex to reduce exposure to HPV, use a latex barrier (e.g. condom or dam) when having sexual intercourse
- Discuss the HPV vaccine with your healthcare provider