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British Columbia adopts new cervical cancer screening policy

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia is updating its cervical cancer screening policy, recommending women between the ages of 25 to 69 get tested every three years.​

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers because it has a pre-cancerous phase, and the transition from the earliest change to cancer takes many years. This new evidence-based policy ensures that women continue to benefit from screening while avoiding unnecessary tests and follow-up treatment. By screening every three years, there is ample opportunity to identify and treat any abnormalities before they turn into cancer. ​

In its earliest stages, cervical cancer often has no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, abnormal or persistent vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain. 

Changes to British Columbia’s cervical cancer screening policy are the result of recommendations from two BC-based expert reviews. This new policy is consistent with the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommendations released in January 2013, and the cervical screening guidelines introduced by Alberta Health in May 2016.

Quick Facts

  • Cervical cancer screening is a test that can find abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancer. If these abnormal cells are found and treated early, cervical cancer can be prevented. 
  • Screening can also identify cancer at an early stage – before it causes symptoms. If cervical cancer is caught at its earliest stage, the chance of survival is more than 85 per cent.
  • Anyone with a cervix (including transgender individuals) can take two steps to prevent cervical cancer: 
    • Get screened every three years if they are between the ages of 25 to 69;
    • ​Get the HPV vaccine if they are between the ages of 9 to 45.
  • Screening is not recommended for women under age 25 as most of the abnormalities identified through screening are transient and will resolve on their own. Treatment of these transient lesions can have long term consequences for subsequent pregnancies and cause unnecessary anxiety and stress. Starting cervical screening at age 25 will reduce the detection of these transient lesions and the consequences of over treatment.
  • The human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. It can take more than a decade for precancerous cells to develop on the cervix after HPV infection. 
  • Evidence shows that screening every three years can reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer by 70 per cent, and is just as effective and safe as screening every two years. 
  • Individuals who have received the HPV vaccine still require cervical cancer screening. The vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer.British Columbia developed its first cervical cancer screening policy in the early 1960s when the province launched the Cervical Cancer Screening Program, the first organized cervical cancer screening program in the world. 
  • Since the program’s inception, cervical cancer rates in BC have been reduced by 70 per cent.

Quotes: ​

Health Minister Terry Lake
“British Columbia is considered a world leader in cancer prevention and treatment. One reason for this is because we regularly review all our cancer screening programs’ performance and available evidence. We are confident that these cervical screening recommendations reflect the best clinical evidence that currently exists.” 
Dr. John Spinelli, Acting Vice President, Population Oncology BC Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority
“BC’s Cervical Cancer Screening Policy was updated to reflect the latest evidence and the province’s commitment to reducing cervical cancer incidence and mortality. This new policy seeks to increase the benefits of screening while minimizing any harm.”
Dr. Dirk Van Niekerk, Medical Director, Cervical Screening Program, BC Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority
“Cervical cancer is caused almost exclusively by certain strains of the human papilloma virus. HPV can take more than a decade to progress to pre-cancerous cells or cervical cancer. Screening every three years provides sufficient time to identify and treat any pre-cancerous conditions long before they ever turn into cervical cancer.”

Dr. Perry Kendall, Provincial Health Officer 
“Ensuring that women between the ages of 25 to 69 are being screened every three years will significantly reduce the number of cervical cancer cases we see in this province, as well as the numbers of deaths due to this type of cancer. It is important that women and their health care providers follow these recommendations and ensure that women are up-to-date with screening.”

Dr. Marette Lee, Program Director, BC Provincial Colposcopy Program 
“There are important reasons why we have changed the approach to women under 25 years of age. Abnormal cervical cancer screening results are very common in young women. Approximately 1 in 10 women under age 25 would be identified by a screening test as requiring further investigation. In the vast majority of these younger women, the abnormalities will clear up on their own. Finding abnormalities through screening in this age group leads to follow-up investigations and unnecessary treatment which can have long term consequences for subsequent pregnancies and cause unnecessary anxiety and stress.”

Learn More: 

For more information on BC’s updated Cervical Cancer Screening policy, please visit​

The BC Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is committed to reducing the incidence of cancer, reducing the mortality from cancer, and improving the quality of life of those living with cancer. It provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of British Columbia by working with community partners to deliver a range of oncology services, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, research, education, supportive care, rehabilitation and palliative care. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @BCCancer_Agency. 

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @PHSAofBC.


For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:

Kevin Sauve
Communications Officer
BC Cancer Agency, an agency of PHSA
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