This year, BC Cancer’s Cervix Screening Program celebrates 65 years of saving lives in B.C. The program was launched in the mid-1950s, following a pilot project that established the cervix screening test, known as a Pap test, was an effective way to detect precancerous conditions in the cervix. By 1956, BC Cancer, then known as the British Columbia Cancer Institute, had organized the world’s first population-based cancer screening program.
“The Cervix Screening Program has played a critical role in reducing the mortality and incidence of cervical cancer in the province. It was the first program of its kind in the world, and its legacy of saving lives through early detection and prevention of cervical cancer continues to this day” says Dr. Dirk Van Niekerk, medical director for BC Cancer Cervix Screening.
Without population-based screening, cervical cancer would be the second most common cancer affecting women 30-60 years of age. It is estimated that last year, 1,000 more women would have been diagnosed with cervical cancer in B.C., and 300 more people would have died from it. Instead, it is the seventh most common cancer affecting women today.
Although Pap tests for cervix screening are conducted by primary care providers at their office or clinic, BC Cancer’s Cervical Cancer Screening Laboratory (CCSL) processes any Pap sample it receives and sends primary care providers the results. Today the CCSL processes more than 330,000 Pap samples annually. In recent months, the program has introduced new processes that will improve patient care.
In 1956, annual Pap testing was recommended for women 20 years and older and approximately 12,000 cases were screened that year. Thanks to research advancement, Pap tests are now recommended every 3 years for anyone with a cervix between the ages of 25-69.
“BC Cancer Cervix Screening continues to innovate,” explains Laura Gentile, operations director, BC Cancer Cervix Screening. “We are improving access to cervical cancer screening follow-up by recalling patients directly with mailed reminder letters, empowering patients to take an active role in protecting their health.”
Between 1955 to now, the number of diagnosed cervical cancer cases has fallen from 28.4 per 100,000 to 5.81 per 100,000 women. Without organized screening, almost 5 times as many people would be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year and 31,000 more people in the past 65 years.
These lives saved can be directly attributed to screening, which has reduced the mortality rate of cervical cancer by more than 50 per cent. Without screening, 11,000 more women would have died from cervical cancer in the last 65 years.
The program will continue to work to improve the health of women in the province, as part of continued global efforts to eliminate cervical cancer. For more information visit BC Cancer’s cervical cancer website or cervix screening website.
Anyone experiencing concerning cervical health symptoms are urged to talk to their doctor.