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News Release - Queen's University researcher calls for an individualized approach to screening for cervical cancer

Thursday, January 23, 2020

(January 2020) Queen’s University researcher Dr. Susan Phillips is examining the disparity in recommendations for age of onset of screening for cervical cancer across Canada and recommending starting pap testing at or after age 25.

Until recently, many women in Canada had regular pap testing from their teenage years. Provincial policy groups changed the rules to recommend a start for testing at age 21 from around 2009.

In 2013 the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommended against screening women younger than age 25. In 2016, British Columbia and Alberta changed their policies to start at age 25. Nova Scotia followed suit on April 1, 2019. The other provinces in central and eastern Canada persist in recommending starting at age 21.

Dr. Phillips says provinces that recommend age 21, including Ontario, are subjecting young women to unnecessary interventions and some risk with no evidence of benefits.

She is recommending starting pap testing at or after age 25 which means young women do not need pap testing, even when they seek contraception. Dr. Phillips says family physicians should discuss the issue with their young patients rather than routinely following out-dated policies of some provincial policy groups.

The research was published in the January issue of Canadian Family Physician.


“Evidence shows that cervical cancer is very rare in women younger than 25 years, and uncommon under the age of 30. Cervical screening does not seem to prevent cancers in young women under 25; however, screening can sometimes cause considerable harms.”

“The more evidence-based approach is a more individualized one that considers age of onset of sexual activity. There is limited risk of pre-cancerous changes or of cancers within the first few years of sexual activity.”

- Susan Phillips, Professor, Department of Family Medicine


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Anne Craig

Media Relations Officer