Thousands at risk of ‘dangerous myth’ that lesbians and bisexual women can’t get cervical cancer

Emma Powys Maurice July 1, 2019
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NHS England estimates one in five lesbian and bisexual women have never been for a cervical screening (BBC/Science Photo Library)

Gay and bisexual women are being urged to get screened for cervical cancer after an NHS report suggests thousands of lesbian and bisexual women believe a “dangerous myth” that they cannot get cervical cancer.

“As long as you are aged 25-64, and you have a cervix, then you are eligible for screening,” say official NHS guidelines.

It estimates that around 50,000 women who have sex with women incorrectly believe that they cannot contract the human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes most forms of cervical cancer, and one in five have never been to a cervical screening before, reported the BBC.

Around 80 percent of people will get HPV at some point in their lives, and it can be passed between women, even if neither one has had sexual contact with a man.

This is because the virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, which can include sexual touching, sharing sex toys, oral and penetrative sex.

The official NHS guidance advises women to be screened every 3-5 years. Trans and non-binary people with cervixes should also follow the guidance.

NHS England surveyed 600 women and found that although the majority were aware they needed to go for a screening, eight percent thought lesbian, gay and bisexual women did not need the test or did not know if it was required.

Let’s be clear: cancer does not discriminate. If you’ve got a cervix, you can get cervical cancer.

A doctor giving the uncomfortable news (stevanovicigor)
Misinformation has created a screening gap. (stevanovicigor)

21 percent thought lesbian gay and bisexual women were at lower risk of cervical cancer compared with heterosexual women.

Some may have been mislead in the past by health professionals incorrectly informing these women that they do not need a cervical screening, and this could be putting lives at risk.

Misinformation has created a screening gap

Speaking at a Pride in Medicine event on Saturday (June 29), NHS adviser for LGBT+ health, Dr Michael Brady, said: “Pride Week is an opportunity to give a platform to the issues facing LGBT people, and little is more important than ensuring everyone has the information and services they need to stay healthy and avoid major illness.

“The misleading information that gay and bisexual women aren’t at risk of this disease is one of the most dangerous myths around, because it has created a screening gap for thousands, which is a major concern for our community.

“Let’s be clear: cancer does not discriminate. If you’ve got a cervix, you can get cervical cancer, and as cervical cancer is preventable people should take up their regular screening appointments.

“We also know that NHS screening services need to be inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and non-binary people, and I’m delighted to have been asked to help the NHS address these issues and more.”

Attendance at smear tests is already at its lowest for 19 years in England. Figures from last year showed just over 71 per cent of all women aged 25 to 64 had been screened at regular intervals. It’s thought that an increasing number failed to attend because of embarrassment.


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