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Cervical Cancer Screening

British Columbia Specific Information

Cervical cancer is a disease in which the cells of the cervix become abnormal and start to grow uncontrollably, forming tumors. It is the fourth most common cancer in women globally. Rates of cervical cancer are among the fastest increasing among females in Canada but it is preventable through immunization and screening programs. Ninety-nine per cent of cervical cancers are caused by high-risk HPV. Cervix screening is recommended for anyone with a cervix, including women and TTGD (Two-Spirit, transgender and gender diverse) people, between the ages of 25 and 69.

You can choose to order a kit to self-screen (cervix self-screening), or have your screening sample collected by a health-care provider (Pap test). Cervix self-screening is highly effective at finding those at risk of cervical cancer. This means that you can safely go longer between screenings. Screening for HPV every 5 years is as safe as having a Pap test every 3 years. 

To learn more about the cervical cancer screening program in B.C., including guidelines on who should be tested, visit BC Cancer Agency - Get Screened

Approximately 70 per cent of all cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18. The HPV vaccines, Cervarix® (HPV2) and Gardasil® (HPV4), protect against infection from certain types of human papillomaviruses (HPV). Health Canada approves the HPV vaccine Gardasil® (HPV4) for use in women and men. Health Canada also approves the HPV vaccine Cervarix® (HPV2) for use in women; however it is not currently approved for use in men.

Some groups are eligible to receive the vaccine for free. Those not eligible to receive the vaccine for free may purchase it from a pharmacy or doctor’s office. For information about the vaccine, including who is eligible to receive it for free, see HealthLinkBC File #101b Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine.

For more information about HPV see HealthLinkBC File #101a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection and Genital Warts. For information on other HPV vaccine programs in B.C., visit ImmunizeBC - HPV (Human Papillomavirus).


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: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology