Almost 40% of lesbians who participated in a recent national survey admitted to not participating in routine screenings for cervical cancer, impeding the process of preventing cancer at a potentially treatable stage. According to a study presented at the International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, this percentage is dangerously higher than the general female population overall (13%).
Dr. J. Kathleen Tracy states that the study “highlights an often-overlooked cancer disparity. We know that HPV can be transmitted during same-sex sexual activity, so lesbians are at risk of developing cervical cancer. If these women aren’t screened, they are at increased risk of getting this type of cancer by missing opportunities to identify precursor cervical abnormalities that can be treated.”
Dr. Tracy believes that a breakdown of communication between lesbians and their healthcare providers is responsible for this lack of effective screening. “Our research showed that women who were open with their primary care doctors and gynecologists about their sexual orientation were nearly 2½ to three times more likely to have routine screening than those who did not disclose it. They also were more likely to be screened if their doctors recommended it and they believed that having routine Pap tests was beneficial.”
Dr. Tracy and her team devised a standardized survey back in 2010 that was sent out to a select group of woman who identified as lesbian. Of these women who responded, nearly 40% reported that they were not engaging in regular cervical cancer screenings. According to Dr. Tracy, “Physician recommendation appeared to be a potent determinant of regular screening behavior.”
All women, regardless of orientation, should begin to talk with their healthcare provider about Pap tests around the age of 21, or within a three-year window of first becoming sexually active. The American Cancer Society strongly recommends that women age 21-29 should be tested every 3 years. And that women aged 30-65 should be tested every 5 years.