You are using an outdated browser. We suggest you update your browser for a better experience. Click here for update.
Close this notification.
Skip to main content Skip to search

COVID-19: Get the latest updates or take a self-assessment.

Cancer screening tests are resuming gradually. Find out more at Cancer Screening During COVID-19.

Cervical Screening

Cervical cancer deaths are more frequent in areas of the world where cervical screening is not available. The dramatic decline since the 1980s in the rate at which Ontario women develop and die from cervical cancer is almost entirely due to Pap testing and screening.

A Pap test is a simple screening test that can detect cell changes in the cervix that may lead to cancer before women feel any symptoms.

When to Get Screened

Currently, the Ontario Cervical Screening Program recommends that women who are or have been sexually active have a Pap test every 3 years starting at age 21. But we are in the process of updating this recommendation. If you are under 25, talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner about whether you should wait until age 25 before starting cervical screening with the Pap test. 

Regular screening should continue until at least age 70 or when advised by a doctor or nurse practitioner to stop. Pap tests can stop at the age of 70 if a woman has had 3 or more normal tests in the previous 10 years.

Eligible people need to get cervical screening even if they:

  • feel healthy and have no symptoms
  • are no longer sexually active
  • have only had 1 sexual partner
  • are in a same-sex relationship
  • have been through menopause
  • have no family history of cervical cancer
  • have received the HPV vaccine

Women who have had a hysterectomy should talk to their doctor or nurse practitioner to see if they need to continue cervical screening.

Pap Test Screening

The Pap test (also known as the Pap smear) is the most common way to find cell changes in the cervix that may lead to cancer:

  • A Pap test looks for abnormal cells in the cervix. Sometimes cervical cells become abnormal over time as they die and then renew. They are also abnormal when a woman has a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Abnormal cells often return to normal on their own. But if they do not, they need to be found and, if necessary, treated. Otherwise, slowly over a number of years, they may become cervical cancer.

  • A Pap test does not test for other cancers in the reproductive organs, such as ovarian cancer, or for sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or HIV.

  • A Pap test is done in a healthcare provider’s office, either by a doctor or nurse practitioner. An instrument called a speculum is inserted into a woman’s vagina so her cervix can be seen. Cells are taken from the surface of the cervix and are sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope. Some women may find it uncomfortable or embarrassing but it takes only a few minutes.

  • The Pap test is sent to a lab. The results are sent back to the doctor or nurse practitioner who will then advise the patient on appropriate follow-up.

To learn more about how to get ready for a Pap test and what happens after your test, see the Cervical Screening FAQs.

Where to Get Screened

Make an appointment with your doctor or nurse practitioner. If you do not have a doctor or nurse practitioner, you can register for Health Care Connect at 1-800-445-1822 or visit the Health Care Connect website.

Some public health units and community health centres also provide Pap tests. Women in the North West and Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant regions may be eligible for screening in one of our mobile screening coaches.

For information on healthcare services in your community, visit

Ontario Cervical Screening Program

The Ontario Cervical Screening Program is an organized screening program run by Cancer Care Ontario and the Government of Ontario. The program’s goal is to reduce the risk of developing or dying from cervical cancer by increasing the percentage of women who get screened regularly and who have timely and appropriate follow-up of abnormal results. The program sends letters to Ontario women inviting them for Pap testing, advising them of next steps following a Pap test and reminding them when it is time to return for screening. The program supports doctors and nurse practitioners so they can provide the best possible cervical screening for their patients.

Screening Letters Sent to the Public

Cancer Care Ontario sends letters to eligible women ages 30 to 70 to book a Pap test through the Ontario Cervical Screening Program. We also send letters to women ages 21 to 70 to inform them of their test results and remind them when it is time to return for screening.

Letters Women May Receive

  • Correspondence privacy notice
  • Invitation and recall letters
  • Invitation and recall reminder letters
  • Normal result letter
  • Unsatisfactory result letter
  • Abnormal result letter
  • Abnormal result follow-up reminder

A sample of each letter type is available in the Letters to the Public area.