There's a lot of misinformation about cervical cancer and Pap tests, so we're breaking down some of the myths and giving you the real facts instead.
Myth: Cervical cancer cannot be prevented.
Fact: Cervical cancer can be prevented.
Screening can find abnormal cells on your cervix before they become cancer. If these changes are found and treated early, cervical cancer can be prevented. Most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV
). There is a vaccine that protects against types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. For more information about the HPV vaccine, visit HealthLink BC
Myth: The cause of cervical cancer is unknown.
Fact: Most cervical cancers are caused by a common virus called HPV which is easily spread through sexual contact, including intimate touching, oral, vaginal, and anal sex. 3 out of 4 sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives – often without knowing it.
Myth: If you have HPV, you will develop cervical cancer.
Fact: There are more than 100 types of HPV – some types are high risk for cervical cancer, while others are not. Usually, the body’s immune system clears the virus by itself within 2 years. However, for some, the HPV does not clear from the body, and over time, it can cause abnormal cell changes in the cervix that you cannot see or feel. These abnormal cells can develop into cervical cancer if they are not found and treated early enough.
Myth: You are more likely to get cervical cancer if you have had multiple sexual partners.
Fact: You can develop cervical cancer even if you have only had one partner. No one can pinpoint exactly why one person may develop cervical cancer and another may not.
Myth: Cervical cancer only occurs in less developed countries.
Fact: Cervical cancer affects people in all countries, developed or not. Cervical cancer is more common in less developed countries because there are no organized cervical cancer screening programs. Since the introduction of BC Cancer Cervix Screening in the early '60s – the first in the world – the province has successfully reduced cervical cancer rates by 70%.
Myth: I need an annual Pap test to screen for cervical cancer.
Fact: Annual screening is not recommended for those at average risk. Screening too often can result in more false-positives which can cause undue stress/anxiety and unnecessary follow-up procedures.
Myth: I'm too old to be screened for cervical cancer.
Fact: Cervical cancer screening can stop at age 69 if your results have always been normal. Ask your doctor or health care provider if you should still be tested.
Myth: I've received the HPV vaccine, so I don’t need Pap tests.
Regular Pap tests are still necessary for those who have had the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against some types of HPV, but not all. You should still screen regularly for cervical cancer if:
- You’ve been through menopause;
- You've ever been sexually active, even if you are not sexually active right now;
- You’ve had the HPV vaccine;
- You’re in a same-sex relationship; or,
- You’re a transgender individual with a cervix.
Myth: Cervical cancer screening tests for all gynecologic cancers.
Fact: Cervical cancer screening does not test for all gynecologic cancers. The only cancer it tests for is cervical cancer. The test does not screen for other gynecologic cancers such as ovarian cancer and fallopian cancer. Contact your health care provider if you have questions about gynecologic cancers not screened by the Pap test.