Kate Sanger – Head of Communications at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust wants LGBT people with cervixes to get screened.
Cervical cancer does not discriminate. It can affect anyone with cervix. However it can be prevented. This is why the news earlier this year that lesbian and bisexual women are being told they do not need to attend smear tests is very concerning. Smear tests prevent a huge 75% of cervical cancers from developing and save an estimated 5,000 lives every year in the UK, they provide the best form of protection against cervical cancer, a disease that claims two lives every day in the UK.
Anyone living with a cervix should fully understand the steps they can take to reduce their risk of cancer and feel supported and empowered to take those steps. This means attending smear tests. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by persistent high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is extremely common, so much so that 80% of people will have HPV at some point in their lives. HPV lives on the skin in and around the genital area and is passed through skin-to-skin contact. In the majority of cases the immune system simply clears the infection however in some cases it can cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix which, if not detected through smear tests and treated, could develop in to cervical cancer.
Research tells us that across the UK one in four women do not attend their smear test when invited, attendance is now at a 19 year low and diagnoses of cervical cancer are worryingly high. We know from research that the reasons women don’t attend are wide ranging. Some women feel embarrassed, others are afraid the test will be painful, others report preferring not to know if something is wrong, many don’t understand what the test is or don’t think it is relevant for them. There are already many barriers to attending smear tests and for lesbian and bisexual women, incorrectly being told they do not need to attend smear tests is simply adding a further barrier to a test that could potentially save their life. We know that trans people with cervixes are even more likely to avoid getting smear tests, for the reasons above and also due to both fear and distrust of the medical profession, and, for some, discomfort around their bodies.
A significant part of our work at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust involves working with women and health care professionals to raise awareness of smear tests, overcome the barriers to the test and tackle any misconceptions and stigma that may be putting lives at risk. This is one of the reasons that we have launched a new LGBTQ section of our Forum. We want to provide a supportive environment where members of the LGBTQ community can talk openly about any concerns or issues they may have relating to cervical screening, screening results, and cervical cancer.
For more information visit – www.jostrust.org.uk