Lesbian and bisexual women up to 10 times less likely to have had a cervical screening test than heterosexual women

BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE

Public Health England has launched the Government’s first national cervical screening campaign, Cervical Screening Saves Lives, to tackle the decline in the numbers of people getting tested across the country.

Working alongside The National LGB&T Partnership and LGBT Foundation, PHE aims to remind all LBT people that everyone with a cervix, which is most women and many trans men, between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible and should attend cervical screening or, if they missed their last screening, to book an appointment at their GP practice.

There can be confusion or misinformation amongst LBT communities around the need to attend cervical screening and it’s costing lives,” explains Emma Meehan, Assistant Director Public Affairs at LGBT Foundation.

“It’s so important all people with a cervix understand they are at risk of cervical cancer and eligible for screening so we’d urge anyone to take up their invitation when received. 

“Anyone concerned if they haven’t received a letter should talk to a healthcare professional.”

Around 2,600 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and around 690 die from the disease – that’s two deaths every day.

It is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.

Despite this fact, screening is at a 20-year low with one in four eligible people in the UK not attending their test.

Crucially for LBT people, research has shown that lesbian and bisexual women are up to 10 times less likely to have had a cervical screening test in the past three years than heterosexual women.

There is a misconception that lesbian and bisexual women don’t need to attend screening if they don’t have sex with men.

However, the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes the vast majority of cases of cervical cancer, is a common virus that is passed on through body fluids.

This means it can be transmitted through oral sex, transferring vaginal fluids on hands and fingers, or sharing sex toys.

It’s therefore important for lesbian and bisexual women to attend their cervical screenings when invited as they are still at risk of cervical cancer.

The campaign will also encourage trans men to get screened and in particular, remind trans men aged 25 to 64 who are registered with a GP as male, that they are eligible for screening if they still have a cervix but they won’t be invited for cervical screening.

For those taking long-term testosterone it is advised that they speak to the nurse taking the test as they can help find ways to screening more comfortable.

Regular screening, which only takes a few minutes, can help stop cervical cancer before it starts.

“The decline in numbers getting screened for cervical cancer is a major concern as it means millions of people are missing out on a potentially life-saving test – and this is particularly true in the LBT community,” explains Professor Anne Mackie, Director of Screening Programmes at PHE.

“Two people die every day in England from cervical cancer and yet it is one of the most preventable cancers if caught early. 

“We want to see a future generation free of cervical cancer but we will only achieve our vision if everyone takes up their screening invitations.

“This is a simple test which takes just five minutes and could save your life. It’s just not worth ignoring”.

The campaign is being supported by charities, including Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

For further information about cervical screening, please search ‘NHS Cervical Screening’ or visit www.nhs.uk/cervicalscreening

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