Despite increased knowledge, awareness and prevention abilities for cervical cancer, the disease continues to wreak havoc. In 2022, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated that 1,450 individuals would receive a cervical cancer diagnosis, with approximately 380 deaths that year. The primary prevention method is cervical cancer screening, or Pap smear, to catch abnormal cell growth early, resulting in more successful treatment and reduced mortality. However, there are many barriers in Canada hindering prevention, including difficulties accessing primary health care and family doctors, and delayed turnaround times to receive Pap results.
Papapalooza BC was an initiative started to help combat some of these challenges. Originally founded in 2020 by two physicians in Nanaimo, BC, who wanted to make cervical cancer screening accessible, safe and welcoming, Papapalooza was later awarded a grant by the Federation of Medical Students to have medical students expand the initiative province wide. In 2023, a Papapalooza event was hosted in each of the four UBC medical school locations including Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Prince George.
The Vancouver site lead, Sophie Harasymchuk, a third year medical student at UBC Vancouver, shared some insight into the importance of this initiative. “Cervical cancer deaths are almost entirely preventable due to advances in human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines and population-based screening programs. However, with so many people lacking access to primary care physicians, and preventative cancer screening programs being suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, cervical cancer screening continues to fall behind,” Sophie said, adding that according to data by BC Cancer, only 67.5% of eligible people are up to date on their cervical cancer screening, slightly lower than the national target of 70%.
“This event gave us the opportunity to conduct this essential, life-preserving screening while also educating people with a cervix on their ongoing need for cervical cancer screening. For many people, this was their first experience with Pap smears and so it was essential for us to create a safe and welcome environment. We hope that this will help patients become more comfortable with this procedure so that they will continue to incorporate Pap smears into their preventive health routine for years to come.”
When asked about the uptake of the event, Sophie reported the response was overwhelmingly positive. In total, the initiative conducted 450 Pap smears, with Vancouver completing 200, Victoria and Kelowna 100 respectively, and Prince George 50. As a part of the day the team collected pre and post patient feedback surveys, to incorporate into future events initiatives. To learn more about papapalooza, you can check out their Instagram @papapalooza.bc and their other shared resources at https://linktr.ee/papapalooza.bc.
Lauren Wiebe is a member of the CanWaCH youth working group. She is a Registered Nurse and has a BA and BSN from UBC and MSc in Public Health Promotion and Disease Prevention from the Karolinska Institute. She is the Special Projects Director for Inspire Community Outreach, a non-profit working with youth and families with neurological differences and mental health challenges.
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