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Cervical Cancer Screening


The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer screening tests check the cells on the cervix for changes that could lead to cancer.

Two tests can be used to screen for cervical cancer. They may be used alone or together.

A Pap test.

This test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Some of these cell changes could lead to cancer. Most cervical cancer screening programs use Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.

A human papillomavirus (HPV) test.

This test looks for the HPV virus. Some high-risk types of HPV can cause cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer. This test may not be available in all areas or covered by all provincial health plans.

Who should be screened?

Most cervical cancer screening programs use Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer. Guidelines for when to start having Pap tests and how often to have them vary from province to province. Your doctor can help you find a cervical cancer screening program in your area.

If you have a cervix and are at average risk for cervical cancer, here are some screening recommendations from the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.footnote 1 These screening recommendations may not be used in your area.

Women younger than 25

If you are in this age group, routine screenings are not recommended.

Women 25 to 69

If you are in this age group, screening is recommended every 3 years.

Women 70 and older

If you are in this age group and have had 3 negative Pap tests results in a row in the last 10 years, screening is no longer needed. If you haven't had regular screenings, continue getting tested until you have 3 negative test results.

What do the results mean?

Your test results may be normal. Or the results may show minor or serious changes to the cells on your cervix. Minor changes may go away on their own, especially if you are younger than 30.

You may have an abnormal test because you have an infection of the vagina or cervix or because you have low estrogen levels after menopause that are causing the cells to change.

If you have a high-risk type of human papillomavirus (HPV) or cell changes that could turn into cancer, you may need more tests. Your doctor may suggest that you wait to be retested. Or you may need to have a colposcopy or treatment right away.

Your doctor will recommend a follow-up plan based on your results and your age.



  1. Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (2013). Recommendations on screening for cervical cancer. Canadian Medical Association Journal, v185(1): 35-45. Also available online:


Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
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