June 9, 2012

IconLesbians aren’t immune to cervical cancer

The idea of a smear test isn’t the nicest thought. It is one of those things that is loaded with all sorts of baggage collected throughout our childhood and teenage years. As a young lesbian who has never slept with a man, being fed the misinformation that ‘lesbians don’t need smear tests’ must be fabulous. A rare (for some people) benefit of being a lesbian.

Cervical screening, the technical term for smear test, saves 4500 women’s lives a year. It may comes as a shock to some lesbian and bisexual women but the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer can be passed on during sex with female partners as well as male partners. Lesbians, we are not immune; even the so-called ‘gold star’ ones who have never slept with a bloke.

What is really scary is the spread of misinformation. I remember telling a nurse I didn’t need condoms and she told me I didn’t need to be screened. She either assumed I was straight and not sexually active or she thought that lesbians don’t need to be screened. Either way, she wasn’t doing her job properly. The professionals need educating as much as we do.

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation launched their ‘Are You Ready For Your Screen Test’ campaign in the North West in 2010. The campaign had such positive results that they have been funded to roll out the campaign nationally this year. Professor Juliette Patnick CBE, Director of The NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, highlights the need for the campaign; “Research carried out by De Montford University found that there is a low level of awareness of the cervical cancer risks for lesbians both among healthcare staff and lesbians themselves. We have to change practice and perceptions”.

This week, 10th – 16th June, is Cervical Screening Awareness Week. If you have been avoiding booking yourself in for a while, now is the time to do it. If you have any friends who have been dodging the test, offer them some gentle encouragement. The NHS recommend that you have your first test at 25 and you are eligible up until the age of 64.

So if you weren’t sure before, be sure now that you need to be screened every 5 years. If you haven’t been screened before, it isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world but it takes minutes and really isn’t all that bad. A few seconds of discomfort that could save your life. You might be extra lucky and the medical staff may have stuck some pretty pictures on the ceiling to distract you. Why not take your own and some blue tac in case they haven’t been so thoughtful – I’m sure they won’t mind. You could leave it there for the next person.

See the LGF website for more information about cervical screening.

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Georgia Rooney

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