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Talking to your patients

As a health care provider, your recommendation can impact your patient’s screening decision. It is important to provide information to individuals about the benefits and potential harms of screening so an informed choice can be made.

Benefits and potential harms of screening:
Facilitating informed decision making with patients

CervixCheck's Screening Guidelines (pdf) aim to ensure individuals receive the greatest benefit from cancer screening while minimizing potential harms.

Health care providers should facilitate this discussion with their patients to:

  • foster the patient’s understanding of the test, its benefits and potential harms, and

  • support patient participation in the clinical decision – one that is informed and consistent with the individual’s preferences and values.

The balance of benefits and potential harms differ by age. Refer to the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care to support the decision making process.

Communicating abnormal Pap test results

Abnormal Pap test results are common. One in four women will have an abnormal Pap test result in her lifetime. The psychological impact of having an abnormal result is unique for each person. How a health care provider communicates the abnormal result to their patient can impact their perspective and subsequent psychological response. Below are some suggestions for how to communicate an abnormal Pap test result:

  • Inform the patient that the Pap test result is abnormal, meaning that the Pap test has detected abnormal cell changes on the cervix.
    Abnormal cell changes are caused by the HPV virus.

  • In rare circumstances, and often over a long period of time, abnormal changes caused by HPV can become cancerous.

  • Reassure the patient that the abnormal result is most likely not cancer.

  • Normalize HPV. Reassure the patient that HPV is very common. Three out of four people will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. Most infections will disappear on their own.

  • Use the Pap tests, the HPV vaccine and your results brochure (pdf English | French) brochure to help explain the meaning of the result and the recommended follow-up.

  • Ensure the patient understands the information you have provided and clarify any misunderstanding.

  • Remind the patient that most people who have abnormal Pap test results and who have follow-up tests and/or treatment will never get cancer of the cervix.

  • Address any fears/barriers that may prevent the patient from adhering to the recommended follow-up.

  • Encourage the patient to contact CervixCheck for more information.


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