Health PEI: Permanent clinics the best option for pap test

Health PEI says a move to establish permanent pap clinics on the Island is the best option to encourage women to take part in cervical cancer screening.

Health authority encouraging women in rural P.E.I. to get test done close to home

A pap test to check for any abnormal cervical cells involves equipment such as a speculum, and a special stick or brush to take a few cells from inside and around the cervix. The cells are then sent to a lab for examination. (IStock)

Officials with Health PEI say permanent pap clinics are the best way to encourage Island women to take part in cervical cancer screening.

Early last year, Health PEI made the switch from mobile clinics to permanent clinics, establishing six permanent cervical cancer screening clinics across the province.

A photomicrograph of cancerous cells detected by a pap test. According to Health PEI, almost 1700 screenings were performed on the Island in 2015. (A. Elizabeth Plott/CDC/Canadian Press)

In the past, mobile clinics were organized by the main pap clinic in Cornwall, so registered nurses were from the Charlottetown area. That means that while working in smaller rural communities, nurses were largely unknown to their patients.

Now, pap tests are performed by nurses working at primary health centres across the Island.

Some women squeamish about pap tests close to home

Anja Nied-Kutterer, the Cervical Cancer Screening Program coordinator with Health PEI, said this shouldn't discourage women from getting the test.

Anja Nied-Kutterer, the Cervical Cancer Screening Program co-ordinator with Health PEI, encourages Island women to get their pap tests done close to home. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News)

"I can understand that some women might feel uncomfortable if they know the person, but they still can do the pap test with a family physician or nurse practitioner in their community."

Health PEI receives requests from women in rural P.E.I. to have the test performed in a larger center, saying they feel awkward having someone in their home community perform their pap test, said Nied-Kutterer. 

"I can understand that people want to go to another place where they are not known for the pap test," says Nied-Kutterer.

"On the other hand, it's better to go to a place where you are actually known because then they can look into your history, and you get better follow-up treatment."

The permanent pap clinics are currently offered in:

  • Charlottetown - each week
  • Summerside - every second week
  • Montague - every eight weeks
  • Souris - every eight weeks
  • Tignish - every eight weeks
  • O'Leary - every six weeks

More women over 40 getting pap test

One of the main goals of the new program was to encourage more women, particularly in the 40-65 age group, to get the test. Health PEI's numbers suggest more women over 40 are having a pap test done said Nied-Kutterer.

"I would say definitely yes, the median age is 45-48," she said. "So more women are coming over 40s, and this is very important, because cervical cancer develops usually with age, it's more common for women over 40."

According to Health PEI, the new permanent clinics offered 100 pap test days a year in 2015, amounting to nearly 1700 appointments.

Below are the total number of cases screened in the province, including by family doctors and nurse practioners. 

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016


22250 20596 21658 19600 16229 16679 16675 11615

Cervical cancer diagnosis on the decline 

According to officials with Health PEI, the reduction in pap test numbers can be attributed to a 2013 change in screening guidelines that suggested women did not have to be testing annually.

Health PEI reports that, between 2011 and 2015, there were 26 cervical cancer diagnosis in the province. Officials say there's been a slow decline in the number of diagnosis, something they attribute to the HPV vaccine, screening, and greater public awareness.