Fall 2005

H e a l t h   P r o m o t i o n
Survey shows women know they should have a pap test… so why aren't they? 


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Only 35 per cent of women in this province have an annual Pap smear; these rates are very low.

Submitted Article

The Cervical Screening Initiatives Program has been a provincial program since January 2003. The provincial expansion saw the hiring of dedicated staff in the western and central health regions, consultation and staged-in implementation in Grenfell and Labrador and a second province-wide fall awareness campaign, known as Pap Test Awareness Week.

This campaign is an intensive week of varied multi-media initiatives, as well as program-driven strategies aimed at raising the awareness among women and service providers on the importance of regular Pap screening. This simple test can detect early cell changes that are a precursor to cancer. These abnormalities, when caught early enough, can be treated and prevent cervical cancer.

After the program’s second successful Provincial Pap Test Awareness Week campaign, an external evaluator was hired to determine if the education and awareness campaign was reaching its intended audience. A random household survey reported 93 per cent of women knew it was important to have a regular Pap test. It also reiterated the program’s success in using a multi-pronged approach using a variety of mediums including print (newspapers, posters and brochures), radio and television to reach a diverse population.

While the Cervical Screening Initiatives Program reveled in the overwhelming success of the survey results, the never-ending challenge of low Pap screening rates remains. Only 35 per cent of women in this province have an annual Pap smear; these rates are very low. Every year, between 30 and 35 women in Newfoundland and Labrador are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer and another 100 or more with severe pre-cancerous changes. These statistics coupled with the ever-growing trend towards incidence rates occurring in a much younger population (in 2004, 43 per cent of cancer of the cervix diagnosed in women under 40 years of age and 63 per cent in women younger than 50) only strengthens the commitment of the program to bring all partners together to eradicate this preventable disease.

An article in the St. John’s Telegram published earlier this past summer, featuring an interview with Dr. Lesa Dawson, relayed the courageous story of a Glenwood women's battle with cervical cancer. As she tells her story she hopes to spread the message to other women that a Pap test can save their life. As with many who are diagnosed with cervical cancer she identifies “pride” as the barrier which kept her from seeking screening. Many women relate embarrassment with asking to have a Pap test.

The program encourages physicians and all service providers to offer this important preventative screening test to all their female patients and encourages all women to take personal responsibility for their health.

For more information, contact the Provincial Coordinating Office at loriharnett@hcsw.nf.ca.

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