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B.C. launches self-screening for HPV amid rising cervical cancer rates

New self-screening tests using HPV testing methods to become available Jan. 29
A woman holds a test swab for an at-home HPV test piloted by BC Cancer. Premier David Eby and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Tuesday (Jan. 9) that B.C. is moving toward at-home HPV test as the primary testing method, replacing the traditional Pap test. (Courtesy of BC Cancer Facebook)

A new do-it-yourself screening method for cervical cancer will become available at the end of January as part of a larger push to eliminate one of the most common, preventable forms of cancer in B.C.

Starting Jan. 29, women and individuals with a cervix aged 25-69 can order free self-screening tests for the human papilloma virus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer, Premier David Eby and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Tuesday (Jan. 9) in Vancouver.

The change comes as B.C. transitions away from the conventional liquid-based testing (ctyology), and makes B.C. the first in the country to offer the option of self-collecting and self-screening.

The traditional test for cervical cancer — which many know as a Pap test — involves a physical exam of the pelvis that collects cells from the cervix for testing. Only health care providers can complete such a test, which must be done every three to five years.

“This programs puts the power to prevent cervical cancer in the hands of ordinary British Columbians,” Eby said. “It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s more accurate than the traditional method of testing and it’s good for a longer period of time.”

The new HPV testing — which involves the collection of a sample from individuals’ vaginas at a place and time of their choosing — eliminates the need for health providers in offering several advantages, when compared to the traditional method.

RELATED: Access to cervical cancer screenings still behind in Greater Victoria

HPV testing means fewer tests in the same amount of time, improves accuracy because it is more sensitive and gives individuals more autonomy, according to a technical briefing. Self-screening also removes other potential obstacles, including cultural barriers, history of trauma, as well as the need for transportation, childcare and booking time off from work.

Individuals can still see their health provider if they decide to.

“By transitioning cervix screening to primary HPV testing and offering the self-screening option province-wide, we are removing barriers to accessing care and giving people the tools they need to take prevention into their own hands,” Dix said. “This is part of our commitment to eliminate cervical cancer in our province in 10 years.”

Cervical cancer is fourth most common cancer among women globally and rates of cervical cancer are rapidly rising in Canada, at about four per cent per year since 2015. About 200 British Columbians receive a cervical cancer diagnosis every year. But regular screenings can prevent seven out of 10 cases of cervical cancer, which is the ninth most common cancer in B.C., according to BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre.

Individuals who self-screen but lack medical providers will be connected to a clinic to review the test findings and individuals with results requiring additional follow up and care will be connected to the relevant facilities.

When Dix was asked whether the self-screening aspect of the transition sets precedent by pulling back on primary care, Dix said it actually empowers people.

“(It) empowers people to have more access to health care and more personal choice in health care and better test results and early detection, which is critical to positive outcomes,” he said. “You are quite right,” he added. “We need to provide excellent primary care and 2023 was a record year for new family doctors…a record year for new nurse practitioners…and a record year for team-based care.”

The transition toward HPV testing builds on a 2021 pilot program, which allowed people in specific communities to order self-screening kits, and will cost the Provincial Health Services Authority an additional $12 million.

The transition to HPV screening by medical care providers will take over the next three years by age group, starting with people aged 55 and older. All self-collected samples will be processed using HPV testing starting at the end of the month.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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