Take Action to Prevent Cancer
20 October 2011
When Lois Adams met with her doctor in May 2010, she heard the words many people fear:“You have cancer.” For Adams, the diagnosis was cervical cancer. The good news - it was at an early stage when treatment is most successful.
“I really was quite lucky,” says Adams. “No one likes to hear the C- word but it was only 18 months since my last Pap test so the cancer wasn’t too advanced.”
Adams was just one of approximately 1,300 women in Canada who receive that diagnosis each year. Sadly, for some, the cancer is far more advanced. As a result, nearly 350 women die from cervical cancer each year in this country. That is frustrating because cervical cancer is almost completely preventable.
During Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, Oct. 23 – 29th, the Canadian Cancer Society is focused on educating women about the importance of the Pap test as a screening tool for cervical cancer. Pap tests detect abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancerous and detect cancer while it is most treatable.
“We encourage women to make Pap tests a top priority”, says Lori Barker, Executive Director of the Canadian Cancer Society, P.E.I. Division. “Screening is a crucial part of a woman’s health care regimen, yet one that many avoid. It’s important to remember that cervical cancer is preventable – as long as women have this simple procedure on a regular basis,” says Barker.
Lois Adams says it was a Pap test that saved her life. After cancer was detected, she went on to have surgery in Halifax last fall and no further treatment has been required.
Since her diagnosis, the 52 year-old educator has been on a crusade to spread the word about how to prevent cervical cancer. “Some people admit they’d do anything to avoid having a Pap test. I tell them ‘Get over yourself, it’s not that bad and it sure beats dealing with cancer’,” says Adams.
Patti Davidson, one of Adams’ colleagues at L.M. Montgomery Elementary School in East Royalty, heard the message loud and clear. “Lois was a good reminder to us all about how important it is to look after your health. A Pap test may not be the most comfortable procedure in the world but it is simply not something you should avoid,” says Davidson.
While routine Pap tests are the best means of detecting cervical cancer at an early stage, vaccines have the potential to protect women from the disease by targeting cancer-causing types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV, a group of viruses transmitted through sexual contact, is the single known cause of cervical cancer.
On Prince Edward Island HPV vaccines are provided to all girls in sixth grade. The vaccine is also available through the P.E.I. Travel and Immunization Clinic. Young women, ages 15 – 24, who have not received the vaccine are encouraged to do so.
“These vaccines represent a major advancement in women’s health and in cancer prevention,” says Barker. "We hope these vaccines, along with regular Pap tests, will eventually make cervical cancer a concern of the past."
Davidson, who teaches Grade six students, says the HPV vaccinations have become widely accepted since they were introduced through the schools three years ago. “Parents had a lot of questions initially but participation has always been near one hundred percent. It’s another great prevention tool,” says Davidson.
The Canadian Cancer Society encourages all women between ages 21 and 75 to have a Pap test every 1 to 3 years, depending on previous test results.
On Prince Edward Island screening is available through your family doctor or at the Provincial Pap Screening Clinic, located at the Cornwall Medical Centre. There skilled nurses, who specialize in this area, carry out the procedure. You do not need a referral from a doctor to attend this clinic and the service is open to all women whether they have a family doctor or not. This clinic also travels to health centers across the province. There is very little wait time and you are encouraged to book an appointment by calling 902-368-2010. There is no charge for this test.
For more information about prevention and early detection, contact the Canadian Cancer Society at 1-888-939-3333 or www.cancer.ca
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.