Pap Tests (Cervical Cancer Screening) and HPV Vaccinations Save Lives


Cervical cancer is among the most common, yet preventable, cancers


Dr. Evan Adams, FNHA Chief Medical Officer and Dr. Unjali Malhotra, FNHA Medical Director, Women's Health

A message from Dr. Evan Adams, FNHA Chief Medical Officer, with Dr. Unjali Malhotra, Medical Director, Women's Health) for Cervical Cancer Awareness / Screening Week (October 16-23)

This week is Cervical Cancer Awareness / Screening Week, so we're taking the opportunity to share a very important public health message with First Nations communities.

"We encourage you to think of Pap tests as preventive, proactive components of wellness, like being physically active and eating healthy foods."

And that is, that Pap tests (cervical cancer screening) and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccinations can save lives! Getting regular Pap tests can ensure early detection of changes in the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer, which means a higher rate of survival; HPV vaccinations can protect against HPV, which is one of the main causes of cervical cancer.

This message is especially important for First Nations communities, because later detection among our people is resulting in lower survival rates. Recent data from the FNHA and BC Cancer agency confirms that although cervical cancer is among the most preventable cancers, it is also one of the most common for First Nations women.

We know there are reasons for this. The findings from recent data back up what we've been hearing about barriers from First Nations cancer patients, survivors and their families. These barriers include:

• challenges of access to screening due to living in remote areas

• challenges of privacy in small communities

• experiences of discrimination, racism or lack of cultural safety and humility in health care settings; and

• experiences of disrespect, intergenerational trauma or fear due to historical wrongs or past experiences.

The FNHA and First Nations communities are working together to bring down these systemic barriers and improve care for First Nations people in BC. Embedding cultural humility and safety into the health care system – so that our First Nations people can feel comfortable and safe in health care settings – is one major area of our work. At the same time, we are also reaching out directly to First Nations people to provide advice and information about both health problems and the solutions. Finally, the FNHA is committed to facilitating access to regional health authority services, and these services are being reviewed.

Research shows that social support for practising good health care habits, such as regular and proactive screening, is extremely beneficial for reinforcing these habits. Knowing this, we can encourage each other to incorporate this self-care into health care routines, and can support each other to do so. This might mean helping with childcare or travelling, or whatever is required to enable regular screening appointments. Research also shows that recommendations from a medical care provider reinforce good health care habits, so that is exactly what we're doing here with this message. We are also addressing one of the reasons that prevent people from getting regular screening –in this case, not realizing they should not wait to have symptoms or feel ill. Often there are no symptoms, and early detection BEFORE cervical changes could lead to cervical cancer is KEY to higher survival rates.

If you are between the ages of 25 and 69 and have a cervix, please be aware that regular screening (Pap tests) should be part of your regular wellness routine. We encourage you to think of Pap tests as preventive, proactive components of wellness, like being physically active and eating healthy foods.

HPV infections are so common (most of us will get one in our lives) that HPV vaccinations should be the norm for everyone. This includes school-age children (not just girls) as recommended by school vaccination programs – well before any risk of exposure.

Knowing this, we urge each of you to please do what is in your power to take the best care of yourself, your children, your family and your community – including getting immunized against HPV and getting regular Pap tests. For more information about cervical cancer, HPV and vaccinations, see this faq​.