Maggie Middleton has two important reasons for staying up-to-date with Pap tests. Having a mom, and being one.
“I saw my mother go through cervical cancer when she was about my age,” says Maggie, 40, a competitive skater with Hammer City Roller Derby (HCRD) and a certified fitness instructor. “My mother’s cancer diagnosis made me highly aware of the importance of cervical screening as part of a healthy lifestyle. And as a mom myself, it’s important that I take care of my health.”
HCRD is teaming up with the Regional Cancer Program to promote cervical cancer screening. The Ontario Cervical Screening Program (OCSP) recommends that eligible women get a free Pap test every three years through their healthcare provider, such as a family doctor or nurse practitioner. Pap tests are recommended for women ages 21 to 69 who have ever been sexually active. Pap tests are also recommended for members of the LGBTQ community who were born with a cervix.
“Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable, but it means staying up-to-date with Pap tests,” says Dr. Dustin Costescu, Regional Colposcopy/Cervical Lead and an Assistant Professor and Family Planning Specialist at McMaster University. “A Pap test looks for signs of cancer before it starts, and we can treat those signs so that people never go on to develop cervical cancer.”
Most cervical cancers are found in women who never had a Pap test, or were screened less often than recommended by Ontario’s cervical screening guidelines.
While family history can play a role in developing cervical cancer, the main risk factor is infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Most cervical cancers are found in women who never had a Pap test, or were screened less often than recommended by Ontario’s cervical screening guidelines.
Maggie’s mom was 44-years-old when she was diagnosed. The cancer wasn’t caught right away because abnormal bleeding she was experiencing was initially diagnosed as signs of menopause. When cervical cancer was discovered after further exploration, Maggie’s mother was treated with surgery to remove her cervix and uterus.
“Fortunately the cancer was caught in time and treated, and she now has a clean bill of health,” says Maggie. “My advice to others — along with staying up-to-date with Pap tests — is to get any unusual symptoms checked out and be persistent.”
Maggie had one Pap test come back abnormal when she was in her early 20s. It meant more frequent Pap tests over two years to monitor any changes in cells, and the issue eventually cleared on its own. She’s now back to a Pap test every three years, as recommended by the provincial screening guidelines.