At-home cancer screening

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This is a graphic of a long cotton swab in a test tube. The outline of both is orange, and the fluid in the tube is also orange.
Is it like... a DIY pap smear? mvezokaramchandhay via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Pap smears are no longer the only option… in BC

In healthcare, early detection has always been an important part of effective disease management. Early detection means more time and better chances to treat and cure the disease and may allow researchers to better understand and develop ways to prevent them in future cases. As the sayings go, “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” and “Precaution is better than cure.” This stands true when it comes to health.  

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally. According to BC Cancer, “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 [human papillomavirus].” To address this, a ground-breaking self-screening program is here to revolutionize this fight against cervical cancer.  

Innovations like self-screening help remove obstacles, increasing access to resources. According to BC Cancer, “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.”  

This makes it easier for people to take the highest advantage of this revolution in healthcare. Given the healthcare issues in Canada including uninsured costs and inaccessibility, this self-screening test kit may help women get their diagnosis sooner than expected.  

BC Cancer’s website has resources for women to understand how to use the kit and learn about the HPV vaccine and the advantages of getting it early. It has many videos and step-by step explanations of the kit. The kits allow cervical cancer testing to be done at home without a professional pelvic exam, while also being an easy and reportedly painless process. 

Moreover, the kit is free of charge. Its HPV testing is supposed to be highly sensitive, making it a very accurate test. Since it is highly sensitive, if no HPV is found in the test, it is estimated that a person is covered for screening for five years.  

This program launched on Jan 29, 2024, and now individuals in BC aged 25 to 69 with cervixes can choose to order a kit to self-screen for HPV. British Columbia has been the world leader in cervical cancer for almost 70 years, and is the first Canadian province to offer at-home cervix self-screening province-wide. Hopefully other provinces will follow suit to improve access and ease for cervical cancer testing.  

People receive a letter when they are due for screening. The kit can be requested directly from the cervix screening program by phone at 1-877-702-6566 or online at their website. Once the sample is collected, the completed kit can be mailed for analysis for free. The results are sent by mail or online to both the patient and health care provider.  

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “An estimated 1550 Canadian women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2023. An estimated 400 will die from it.” Improving access to screening methods will help decrease these numbers. In Saskatchewan, 15 out of 60 cases resulted in death due to cervical cancer in 2023.  

Moving forward, it is important to embrace the promise of this self-screening program, recognizing its potential to not only detect cervical cancer sooner but also inspire a shift in health advocacy and importance. Things will only change when we step out to spread awareness about cervical cancer and how important vaccines are in preventing HPV.  

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