More Pap tests now available in Durham Region

A doctor preparing smear test for screening. Photo credit: Getty Images

More Pap tests are now available to women in Durham Region, Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough, Northumberland and Scarborough.

Nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and midwives will now have advanced training to perform Pap tests because of a new simulation-based educational program. Only doctors have been trained in performing Pap tests in the past.

As of this month, more than 70 health-care providers across Central East Ontario have been trained because of the new initiative.

According to Lakeridge Health, Oshawa, Ajax and Pickering have the lowest cervical cancer screening rates in Canada. These areas contain more newcomers to Canada, who may not be aware of the importance of having a Pap test due to cultural differences, language barriers and lack of information accessible.

Dr. Antionette Martinez from DC/UOIT Campus Health Centre says having a Pap test is important because it detects cervical cancer. It monitors abnormal changes in the cervix.

“Cervical cancer is when the cells of the cervix are abnormal. There are various stages in which it takes a normal cervical cell to turn into a cancerous cervical cell. Basically, the cervical cells start to look different and start to behave differently and can accumulate into cervical cancer,” says Dr. Martinez.

The Pap test screens for the abnormal cells and can identify abnormal cells before it develops into full-blown cervical cancer, says Dr. Martinez.

It is easy to catch cervical cancer in its earlier stages of development, says Dr. Martinez. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 68 per cent of cervical cancers are found at an early stage.

“It is important these things are caught earlier because it will prevent [the growth of] cervical cancer down the road,” says Dr. Martinez.

According to Cancer Care Ontario, every year approximately 500 Ontario women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 160 women die from it. In comparison to other types of cancers, cervical cancer is more common in younger women.

The significant decline in cervical cancer death rates from 1983 to 2005 is accredited to cervical cancer screening from the accessibility to regular Pap tests. It has been stable ever since, according to Cancer Care Ontario.

Dr. Martinez says human papillomavirus (HPV) is the virus associated with the development of cervical cancer. HPV is the world’s most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), according to Cancer Care Ontario.

A Pap test can identify if a woman has HPV because the virus will create abnormal cells.

“Currently, [Ontario guidelines state a woman should have a Pap] every three years, after the age of 21 and/or sexually active,” says Dr. Martinez.

Pap tests are free to those covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.