Six Questions Patients Ask During a Pap Test

Published Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Six Questions Patients Ask During a Pap Test

Dr. Naana Jumah is an Obstetrician Gynaecologist and our Regional Cervical Screening and Colposcopy Lead for the North West region. Each day she sees patients in her clinic for a Pap test. A Pap test is a screening test that can detect changes on the cervix that may lead to cancer before people feel any symptoms. It is important that these changes are found and, if necessary, treated before they cause cervical cancer. Pap testing can be scary when patients don't fully understand what their health care provider is looking for.

To help clear up some of the confusion, Dr. Jumah shares some of the most frequently asked questions she gets from her patients when they come for a Pap test.


Why is Pap testing done every three years instead of yearly?

Pap testing is done every three years and does not increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. On average, abnormal cells take 10 years to develop. By doing Pap tests every three years, we are still able to effectively screen for cervical cancer. We also decrease the number of individuals who have unnecessary tests and procedures that can be uncomfortable.


Does an abnormal Pap test result mean I have cancer?

No, an abnormal Pap test result does not mean you have cervical cancer. Pap tests look for pre-cancer changes on the cervix. These pre-cancer changes have no symptoms. With cervical cancer, people often notice irregular bleeding or abnormal discharge.


Why do I get a letter from Ontario Health - Cancer Care Ontario after my Pap?

Pap tests are part of the Ontario Cervical Screening Program (OCSP) that is run by Ontario Health-Cancer Care Ontario. The OCSP is an organized screening program that notifies patients when they are due for a Pap and about the results from a Pap test.


What is HPV?

HPV is short for human papillomavirus. It is the virus that causes changes on the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. A Pap test does not look for HPV directly. Instead, a Pap test looks for cell changes caused by HPV.


How do you get HPV?

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is spread very easily. Approximately, 75 per cent of people who have had sexual touching or sexual intercourse have been exposed to HPV at some point in their life.


How do you manage HPV?

There are two ways to manage HPV:

  1. Get immunized with the HPV vaccine. It is recommended that people get the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active.
  2. Get routine cervical screening and go for follow up if your Pap test is abnormal.


During the month of April, participate in Pap-A-Palooza by getting a Pap test. Pap-A-Palooza is a campaign that aims to increase awareness and encourage eligible individuals living in Northwestern Ontario to book a Pap test to be screened for cervical cancer. To find a participating clinic near you or to learn more about Pap-A-Palooza, visit or call the Pap-A-Palooza Hotline at (807) 684-7787.


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