By Laura Keil

The dreaded pap smear has long dogged women and people with cervixes, but a new home testing kit promises to eliminate the uncomfortable medical procedure and provide more accurate results.

The self-screening program launched in BC Jan. 29 and is being administered by BC Cancer.

“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,” said Premier David Eby. “By working together, we can eliminate deadly cervical cancer in B.C. in the next decade.”

Women and people 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. The kit is then mailed back and the results provided to the person’s health care provider in four to six weeks.

This is an expansion to the pilot program launched in 2021. The self-administered HPV test means that patients can self-collect a sample at home or at their health-care provider’s office.

A positive HPV test helps flag if a person is at risk for developing abnormal cells of the cervix, so those cells can be detected and treated early to prevent cervical cancer.

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. Nearly 99 per cent of cervical cancers are caused by high-risk HPV.

HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact and can cause a variety of cancers. Only long-term infection with high-risk HPV can cause pre-cancerous changes to the cells of the cervix, which can develop into cervical cancer if undetected and untreated.

The Province says 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.

“As someone who has experienced trauma, I avoided Pap tests because I did not feel safe or trust anyone to do this procedure,” said Bianca Michell, Tache (father)/Yekooche (mother), Lusilyoo clan. “When I did a Pap test, it was always traumatic and it took a long time for me to recover mentally and emotionally. Today, with the at-home HPV self-screening test, survivors like me can do a self-test where and when we feel safe. I was able to access this test through the Carrier Sekani Family Services and the BC Cancer pilot project and ended up needing further testing. This saved my life.”

The HPV test also has a higher sensitivity and negative predictive value than the current pap test.

“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.
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 accessible.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.

“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.”

BC will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to launch this self-screening test provincewide and one of the first to fully implement HPV testing as its primary screening method.

To order the self-screening kits visit:
People will still receive a letter in the mail when they are due to screen. They can then request a kit directly from the cervix-screening program by phone at 1 877 702-6566 or online at the link above. They are also still able to receive a pap test.

Results will be sent by mail or online to both the patient and their health-care provider within four to six weeks from the time the kit is mailed in. You can also see your results online through Health Gateway.