British Columbia has made massive strides in improving access to cervical cancer screening through the roll-out of a province-wide cervical cancer self-screening program. Beginning on January 29, 2024, eligible women and individuals with a cervix will be able to order a quick, easy, and highly accurate test kit to screen for cervical cancer from their home.
While Pap tests have historically been the primary screening model for cervical cancer, BC is now shifting towards self-administered HPV-based screening as it can detect the virus before it causes cancer. However, individuals who experience symptoms or prefer to have their screening sample collected by their healthcare provider can still schedule a Pap test with their healthcare provider. Symptoms include vaginal bleeding after sex, after menopause, between periods or periods that are heavier than normal, abnormal vaginal discharge (watery and strong odor or contains blood), and pelvic pain or pain during sex. If you have any concerns about potential symptoms, please consult with your healthcare provider.
Learn more about the self-screening process through this brochure from BC Cancer.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally. Rates of cervical cancer are among the fastest increasing among females in Canada, but it is largely preventable through HPV immunization and cervical screening programs.
The self-administered HPV test means that patients can easily self-collect at home or at their healthcare provider’s office. This is an expansion of the BC Cancer CervixCheck pilot program launched in 2021, when people in specific communities could order cervix self-screening kits.
“British Columbia is one of the first provinces to move from Pap screening to HPV testing. The exciting thing is this is a more accurate test. It’s a test that can be made very easily more accessible through self-collection. So, I think with that we’ll be able to expand screening to as many folks who want it around the province,” Dr. Gina Oglivie said in an interview with Provincial Health Services BC. Dr. Oglivie, a Gynecologic Cancer Initiative researcher specializing in women’s health and reproductive infectious diseases, has been among the many researchers and providers driving this shift towards cervix self-screening.
Cancer screening programs are extremely important because they allow earlier detection among people with no identifiable symptoms. This can improve health outcomes by allowing earlier intervention and reducing demands on the healthcare system.
Self-screening helps address some of the challenges women and individuals with a cervix face when seeking traditional cervical cancer screening. Obstacles can include cultural barriers, history of trauma, need for transportation, childcare, and booking time off from work. Self-screening removes several of these barriers and allows for more equitable access to cervical cancer screening.
“Cervix self screening provides choice and autonomy for British Columbians to screen for cervical cancer however they feel most comfortable. Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable and through a combination of vaccination and participation in HPV-based screening we aim to attain that goal by 2040,” says BC Cancer surgical gynecologic oncologist Dr. Lily Proctor.
The Gynecologic Cancer Initiative is excited for the rollout of self-screening for cervical cancer in BC. This is an incredible step towards reducing cervical cancer rates and we hope other provinces will follow.