By LORI HARNETT
Special to the Appalachian
When you walk into a coffee shop, or even into a physician’s office, and strike up a conversation about Pap screening, you feel the uneasiness begin to build. Women usually shake their heads and make comments about how they hate having that done. Males within earshot avoid eye contact, turn red and instantly become fixated on the weather happening in the past, present or future. It just isn’t an easy subject to discuss. Who would ever believe that in 2021 discussing cervical cancer prevention would cause such embarrassment?
The Cervical Screening Initiatives program (CSI) is using Pap Test Awareness Week (October 24-30) to encourage women across the province to take an active role in their health by booking a routine Pap test. Encouraging women to talk to each other about the feelings they have around the Pap test and to discuss these thoughts with their health care provider is the goal. Open discussion about women’s health is necessary to support those women who do not attend regular screening. The CSI program partners with health care providers and community partners to help raise awareness on the importance of regular Pap testing and to increase opportunities for women to access screening.
Women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer are telling their stories of how “pride, embarrassment or not realizing how important the Pap test was,” as reasons for why they did not participate in regular Pap screening. The CSI recommends if you are 21 and ever been sexually active, start Pap testing at 21. Have a Pap once a year for three consecutive years, if all results are normal, then testing should continue every three years. Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable. Routine screening can detect changes in the cells of the cervix before they develop into cancer. The biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer is not having regular screening.
The CSI Program encourages all providers to initiate a conversation on this important preventive screening test to all eligible patients and to begin building a Pap friendly environment. To provide easier access to cervical cancer screening, many health care providers have opened their doors to accept any woman for Pap testing, regardless of whether they are a regular patient. The family physician plays a lead role in promoting and offering screening opportunities. Seventy-seven open door clinics have been established to provide opportunities for women to be screened. Women can utilize these clinics for any reason that they feel is a barrier to screening. Some women report challenges accessing an open clinic due to lack of a service provider or their service provider is male and they’d prefer a female (for a Pap test). More information can be found at https://cancercare.easternhealth.ca/prevention-and-screening.
The Cervical Screening Initiatives Program is looking at opportunities to remind women to book that important date. During Pap test awareness week special efforts are underway to get the message out through beauty salons, bingo halls, secondary and post-secondary schools. The program encourages all service providers to offer this important preventative screening test to their patients and to all women. We encourage you to take personal responsibility for your health. Together we can reduce the burden of cervical cancer through regular Pap testing.