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New self-screening program will help detect cervical cancer sooner

January 9, 2024 at 11:15 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

People in B.C. will have improved access to cervical cancer screening as a provincewide cervix self-screening program launches, including the option to screen at home, a first in Canada.

“It’s not every day that a province can set an achievable goal of eliminating a deadly cancer, but today’s launch of the first at-home self-screening program means ending deadly cervical cancer in British Columbia is a now a very real possibility,” said Premier David Eby. “As of Jan. 29, women will be able to order a quick, easy and highly accurate test kit to use at home, and will be able to access a network of highly trained and compassionate medical professionals who will support those identified to be at higher risk. This more accurate, comfortable and convenient way to test will encourage more women, and vulnerable populations like trans people, across the province to get screened, including in more rural and remote communities. By working together, we can eliminate deadly cervical cancer in B.C. in the next decade.”

Beginning Jan. 29, 2024, women and individuals from 25 to 69 with a cervix can choose to order a kit to self-screen for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer, or have their screening sample collected by a health-care provider.

“B.C. has been a world leader in cervical cancer prevention for almost 70 years and we’re at the forefront again as the first Canadian province or territory to offer cervix self-screening at home provincewide,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “By transitioning cervix screening to HPV primary screening and offering the self-screening option provincewide, we are removing barriers to accessing care and giving people the tools they need to take prevention into their own hands. This is part of our commitment to eliminate cervical cancer in our province in 10 years.”

Cervical cancer 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. 

The self-administered HPV test means that patients can easily self-collect a sample at home or at their health-care provider’s office. This is an expansion to the pilot program launched in 2021, when people in specific communities could order cervix self-screening kits.

Self-screening removes obstacles such as cultural barriers, history of trauma, the need for transportation, child care and booking time off from work for traditional testing. Cancer screening programs are an important component of preventative health care and are intended for people with no identifiable symptoms as an effort to detect cancer sooner. This can improve outcomes for patients, reduce demands on the health-care system and expedite care for others.

“Whereas pap tests detect changes to the cells of the cervix that have been caused by HPV, HPV testing can detect the presence of high-risk types of HPV before cell changes have occurred,” said Dr. Gina Ogilvie, Tier 1 Canada research chair in global control of HPV-related diseases and prevention, University of British Columbia, and affiliate scientist, BC Cancer. “Cervix self-screening is not only more effective, but also safe and easy and will help us prevent many unnecessary deaths.”

In addition to the self-screening program, the Province is making HPV testing its primary screening method because it detects the virus before it can cause cancer and is more accurate and widely accessible. Pap tests are the current primary screening method.

The transition to HPV screening by a medical-care provider will be phased in over the next three years by age group, starting with people 55 and older. All self-collected samples will be processed using HPV testing from the end of January.

“When I first saw the ad on social media for the cervix self-screening pilot, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m so glad I did,” said Christina Price, BC Cancer pilot study participant from Port Alberni. “I found out I had a high-risk type of HPV and ended up needing a procedure to remove the cancerous tissue from my cervix. We caught it early and I’m now cancer-free. I’m grateful this opportunity was there for me. I am thrilled too that at home as self-screening is now being made available to anyone in B.C. who needs it.”

Several jurisdictions around the world have transitioned to this approach for cervical cancer screening. British Columbia will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to launch this new accessible self-screening test provincewide and one of the first to fully implement HPV testing as its primary screening method.

Completing the transition to the HPV test as the primary screening test for cervical cancer is part of B.C.’s 10-year Cancer Care Action Plan to better prevent, detect and treat cancers. Expanding cervix self-screening provincewide is part of the Province’s commitment to increase equity in health care.

Learn More:

To order the self-screening kits as of Jan. 29, 2024, visit: https://www.screeningbc.ca/cervix

To learn more about B.C.’s 10-year Cancer Care Action Plan, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2023HLTH0012-000229

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